Writing sounds easy enough, right? Just slap some words onto a page, spell-check, sense-check, job done.
Piece of cake.
Or at least it would be if you didn’t start second guessing yourself.
“What was the point I was trying to make here anyway?”
“Is this article working?”
“Will anyone read this, or will it slip into spectacular insignificance?”
And then there’s the big question.
Is it good enough?
Do you think that Stephen King doesn’t have a bad day of writing? Does Stephanie Meyer think every word she writes is peachy first time round? How about McEwan, Rowling or Kawasaki? Irving, Huffington or Coelho?
Every writer writes rubbish, because writing requires it. It’s part of the process of great writing.
The trick then, is to find ways to keep your confidence going during the times when you can see that you’re in a writing funk.
1. Don’t take it personally.
Got a crappy comment on your blog saying what you’ve written stinks more than a dozen dead frogs in a bag of over-ripe stilton? Got a bad review that highlights the fatal flaw in your oh-so carefully constructed and carefully worded argument?
What are you gonna do? Invite them over for a glass of wine to apologize? Send them a basket of muffins and a sincere letter of apology? No. Of course not.
There will always be people who disagree with you and there will always be someone out there who doesn’t like what you’ve written. Writing to please everyone who reads your work is writing for the wrong reasons, and it’s something that’s never going to happen.
It’s all too easy to start doubting whether your words are any good, and to extrapolate those doubts as personal failings. I’ve done this myself in the past – I write a crappy article, realize that it’s pretty crappy, and then conclude that I’m a crappy writer.
Wrong. One thing does not equal the other.
2. You’ve gotta go from 0% to 100%.
To finish a writing project you’ve got to start with nothing and go all the way through until it’s finished. That sounds obvious (and I do have a remarkable grasp of the obvious), but it’s significant for one important reason.
It means that you need to go through the process in order to end up with some great writing. It means that along the way some of what you’ll write will be good and some won’t be good – that’s just how it goes.
You need to trust yourself to go from 0% to 100%, from nothing to everything. You might hit writers block at 24%, you might write some killer copy at 68% that you’re insanely proud of, and you might write a super-stinky paragraph at 82% that you’ll never speak of again.
Every word and every sentence adds to the whole, whether it’s good or not. You need to trust that you can spot the gold along the way.
3. Be ready to push yourself.
I’m sure I’m not the first one to draw a correlation between writing and giving birth. There are some big differences (writing doesn’t require stirrups, for one) but there are some important similarities – the pain, the wonder, the fear and the joy.
Writing requires you to externalize what’s internal, and that can be an awkward, painful and frustrating process.
Sometimes great writing requires you to go to places in your head or your heart that you don’t normally go.
There are times when great writing requires you to put your experience on the page and times when it requires you to make leaps of faith that make you feel vulnerable or scare you half to death. Which is why, even though you need to consider your audience, you should write like nobody’s reading. The content might be the same, but the style will be more natural.
Confidence isn’t knowing how things will turn out, it’s trusting yourself to do what you’re best at. Trust yourself to make those leaps and you’ll not only be a more confident writer, but you’ll be writing some of your best work.
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