We’ve all been there. That point when you stare down at what you’ve been writing, what you’ve been agonising over for hours/days/weeks and think, “this is complete rubbish,” and maybe, “why do I bother?” Perhaps you hate the words you’ve used, or the rhythm of the sentences. Maybe you feel what you’ve written is silly, it doesn’t make sense, or it’s potentially offensive. These thoughts are often accompanied by a sickening feeling in the stomach and an urge to eat biscuits or ice cream. All writers suffer a crisis of confidence at some point. It happens to all artists. But there are ways to improve your confidence.
Ignore the inner critic (sometimes)
It’s not helpful for me to tell you to ignore your inner critic. It’s hard to write well, and sometimes the inner critic is useful. It recognises when you can do better. Hemingway said, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, s*** detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.” But sometimes you need to silence the inner critic. The first draft of anything is terrible. Always. Try to write to the end of what you’re writing without your inner critic pausing you along the way to edit. It’s easy to fall into the trap of refining as you go, but that bogs you down, and constantly criticising yourself for your poor writing kills your confidence. There’s nothing like a pile of unfinished manuscripts to make you feel terrible, so get to the end of something, and you’ll feel great. Then polish, polish, polish until your writing gleams.
Take some time out
If you’re really stuck and have no idea how to progress with the thing you’re writing, don’t rip it up. Come back to it later. Go for a walk. Do the washing up. Binge watch 7-seasons of a Netflix series your friend said was “OK”. Trust that your amazing brain will be silently working on your writing in the background and solve your problems before you know it. Sometimes, you just need to give yourself time, and be confident you’ll figure it out, eventually.
Write a lot/Read a lot
When your writing isn’t going well, it’s easy to think you’ve wasted your time. But remember, writing is never a waste of time. Like any skill, the more you do it, the better and more confident writer you’ll become. Likewise, reading is never a waste of time. Read as widely as you can, and you’ll learn what good and bad writing is. And, occasionally, you’ll read something well-known, and you’ll think, “I could do better,” and that will give you an enormous confidence boost.
Set yourself goals and achieve them to build your confidence. Perhaps your goal is to write for a certain amount of time each week or target a certain number of words. Or maybe set yourself a deadline to finish something. The important thing is to make your goals achievable so you’re not crushed when you don’t meet them. Don’t compare yourself to successful authors or envy them their success. Don’t become frustrated that you’re not churning out four novels a year and feature in the book charts. Those writers do what they do. You do what you do, and you do it better than anyone else. To be a celebrated writer requires hard work, talent and an incredible amount of luck. You've got the first two—try and put yourself in the right place for the luck to find you.
Continue to learn the craft
Keep studying the craft of writing and your confidence will improve as your skills do. Read books, magazines, and blogs, or take courses. There are countless paid and free options out there. Develop your dialogue skills or learn how to write more convincing characters. If some of the learning content is familiar to you, then celebrate that you’re already writing well in that regard.
Listen to other writers
Go to author's talks, or find them online, and listen to what they say about their writing process. You’ll realise that they’ve faced the same struggles and crisis of confidence that you have and that it’s completely normal. And you’ll pick up some writing tips too.
Set your writing free
Get your writing out there. Send it out into the world. Share it with other people. Receiving great feedback at manuscript nights can boost confidence. Although everybody secretly wants to hear that their writing is exceptional, and more critical feedback can leave you reeling, you can come away buzzing with ideas on how you can improve your writing. Just remember, everyone wants your work to be as good as it can be. The fact you’ve been brave enough to show your writing to other people should alone boost your confidence. There are plenty of want-to-be writers whose work remains unread in a drawer.
Getting published and competition wins are a great confidence boost. There are countless printed and online publishers and competitions to enter. But winning competitions and getting published is tough. There are a lot of writers out there attempting the same as you. But keep trying. Publishing is an industry that follows fashions, so perhaps it’s a matter of waiting for the right moment. And people have different tastes. Not everyone likes the books that often win the big literary prizes. Not everyone likes the huge best-selling thrillers. Someone out there has the same taste as you or is drunk or crazy or foolish enough to publish your work or place you first in a competition. You just have to keep trying.
Celebrate all your accomplishments
Getting published or winning a competition is amazing but celebrate all your writing accomplishments: everything you start, everything you finish, every time you find time to write and hit a word count, every time you submit to a competition or publisher, every time you show a piece to someone else, every nice comment you get. We all remember the negatives. Embrace the positives. And don’t belittle your work. You’re not trying to write a novel. You are writing a novel. You haven’t entered a little writing competition, you’ve written and polished and finished a short story, something entirely from your imagination using a huge amount of skill and creativity. If you put in the time and energy, you are a writer. Never feel like an imposter.
You probably write because you enjoy the process, because it fills a deep need to create, to tell stories, to entertain. Don’t forget that. It gives you permission to write what you want, when you want, and how you want. Be confident and write, write, write.