Developing one’s confidence as a writer isn’t easy. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know my own path has been an arduous one, and confidence waxed and waned along the way.
I read a fair amount of articles written by a variety of authors and bloggers, and in doing so, it’s become apparent that there’s an implied division between “real” writers and the aspiring. However, I put forth that there is no such division, and we’re all real writers if we dedicate ourselves to the craft.
New writers (or those who have yet to find their stride, as I prefer to think of them) get a bad reputation. How is one to develop confidence when so many articles fall into one of two categories: either the “general, sweeping statements about how to become better” (but aren’t specific enough to really impart valuable wisdom), or the “give up because you probably suck” variety.
Recently on the Mythic Scribes forum, we commented on an article (of the second variety) written by a professor who was irritated by the general lack of skill exhibited in his many years of teaching writing. The article included a fair amount of bitterness that was perhaps uncalled for, but the most offensive statement was something along the lines of “you’re either born with talent or you’re not.”
Let’s mull that over for a moment. Are you saying I was either born to write or not? Could anything so nonsensical ever be considered a valuable perspective to writers?
With similar articles flooding the internet, it’s easy to see why folks get discouraged. So what’s a green writer to do when coming up against open negativity?
Talent is Born, Not Made. Really?
It might be true that certain individuals come from backgrounds with broad vocabularies, opportunities for cultural enrichment, and the financial means to pay for college writing courses. However, to be a writer, one needs a certain amount of confidence and mettle. It’s a brutal world out there. Discouragement bleeds from every facet of this industry, where reviews reign supreme and success is controlled by a series of gatekeepers. Is talent really just ingrained in us? What if we aren’t especially talented? Do we just…quit?
Don’t quit. Don’t even give it a thought. If you’re on this path, you’re here for a reason. Perhaps that reason is that you’ve had a story burning inside you since you were fifteen, and graduated from angst-riddled poetry after your parents’ divorce. Maybe you picked up the pen in your later years. Whatever brought you to this point, you owe it to yourself to be the best writer you can be, and to take other people’s opinions with a grain of salt—or maybe a teaspoonful, if it’s called for.
Talent may be a part of our genetics, but it isn’t the end-all-be-all. I have a generous dose of dexterity and I might have made a great dancer, but I certainly wasn’t drawn to dance. Am I a natural dancer? Who knows. I know I’m not a natural writer, though. I was born with intelligence, artistic vision, and tenacity, I suppose (because I see those qualities in my parents). But I certainly wasn’t born a good writer. So how, if not intuitively a great writer, do I approach this endeavor?
At this point in my life, I’ve learned enough about the world to realize that most people are dreamers. Yep. Dreaming big, but not doing much. Some people go to a writing class hoping they will come out as professional writers. Some already believe they are brilliant, and just need a published title to confirm it. I’m not judging. I’ve never been to college, and perhaps I’m missing something important by not attending. Perhaps that’s where you really ought to learn how to write. However, I’m not convinced as of yet. For me, writing begins in the soul and mind. I see things. I write things. It’s not much more complex than that.
Creating talent is about learning and reading. Especially reading.
Read authors you admire, and identify what you love about their stories. The lessons we learn from reading great books affect our subconscious and conscious ability to tell stories.
When you’re feeling bogged down by your novel, go read a good book. Recently, I was feeling pretty down about a novel I have been writing for three years. Then I discovered someone else succeeding at what I was trying to accomplish (all the way to the best-seller list). That helped me to realize that I was on the right track.
If you want to build confidence in your own work, read books that are similar to your novel. It’ll give you a personal boost and a nudge in the right direction.
Critiques and Articles on Writing
Feedback is tough to receive and to give. Finding a critique partner can be the trickiest thing of all. We all want honest feedback, but certain partners just aren’t a good fit. Perhaps they’re not at the same place on their journey as you are. Maybe they just “don’t get” what your goal is, and therefore the feedback they give falls short of your objective. I talk about this in my article on critiques: Critiques: A How-To Guide
Likewise, articles on writing have limitations. In fact, the whole internet has limitations. Hell, written words have limitations—ones we strive to overcome every day as writers. If articles are the main way we improve ourselves, we may be hindering ourselves in a way that I call “fear writing,” because it’s riddled with personal attacks from our own mind. Don’t do this or readers won’t like my character. Don’t do that or the pace will lag. Don’t do, don’t do, and so on.
A while ago, I wrote an article about affirmations that some folks laughed at as absurd, but I stand by the belief that creating a positive frame of mind when writing is by far superior to the negative suggestions with which we’re flooded. In which we’re drowning, maybe. If you’re interested in affirmations and how they can help build your confidence, see the article here: Affirmations
For me, learning didn’t come easy. Critique was the best tool I had, and I stand by it being the best tool available. Honest feedback from my peers has pushed me to be better, helped me to define my strengths and weaknesses, and has given me supportive people who are in the same boat. We might feel like we’re sinking sometimes, but if we all take turns paddling, we’ll reach shore eventually.
It may seem counter-productive to analyze your weaknesses as a writer, because in the beginning of this game we’re mostly weak with few strengths. Yet I’ve found that the more I understand where I am going wrong, the more I can tailor my writing to play to my strengths. That, my friends, is the core of building confidence.
A huge confidence builder (that also builds “talent” by leaps and bounds) is simply writing short paragraphs about seemingly unimportant things. Consider writing one such paragraph a day, even. Just observe something and write a little sentence or two about it, described as through a microscope. You can even do it in your head and skip the paper or computer. Is that an “old lady” sitting next to you on the bus, or is she “a hunched crone with age-wrinkled eyes and a seemingly vacant expression as if she had nowhere to go?” Pretty soon, those richer descriptions will find their way into your story, and your confidence will blossom as beta readers respond favorably to your colorful way of not only capturing a scene, but pulling them into your character and his mode of perception.
Books can have infinite problems, but there are things you can do to become a more confident writer and increase the effectiveness of your words. Every single writer has that power. So don’t let any article or review take that away from you. If you learn something today, you’re on the right path. If you learn two things, you’re advancing faster than most.
And if you have a really frustrating project (and want to avoid a concussion from bashing your head against a desk), put it down for a couple of weeks and write a short story. Just keep writing and don’t limit yourself to a single project if you’re getting too frustrated. Taking a short break to re-outline or simply stew on the problem will help ensure that your skills stay sharp (or get sharper), and your patience doesn’t wear thin. Just don’t give up, whatever you do. Too many writers have thrown in the towel for good, and you don’t want to be one of them.
One Step at a Time
Writing is hard work, and it takes time. They say it takes a million words to be good, but I’m sitting on twelve novels and a hundred short stories, and I’m pretty sure they total more than three million words. I’m just now getting the kind of confidence I feel…err…confident in having?
Perhaps that’s because I never had self-esteem. Maybe it’s just because I was super awful when I started out. It doesn’t matter. Keep on the path, write as much as you can, and above all, be honest with yourself. What are your goals, what load can you carry, and what is your actual skill level. If you can find those answers, you know what you can work on and how hard you need to work. Take it one step at a time and find others working on those same skills. It’s always more fun when you aren’t alone in a boat set adrift, so bring your friends along and hand them an oar.
What has helped you to become a confident writer? If you struggle with confidence, why? What tools have helped you to overcome low confidence?
Also, do you believe that people are born with writing talent, or is it something that can be created?