How to Write With Confidence

Confidence

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.

Want lots more tips for producing confident copy and content? Sign up for the Copyblogger newsletter. It’s free, and it’s the smartest way to get the very best advice about how to effectively market online.

About the Author: As a leading confidence coach with clients right around the world, Steve Errey has a reputation for talking sense and getting results. Get more from him at The Confidence Guy.

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Comments

  1. Totally agreed about what confidence is … about trusting yourself that you will do a great job, doing what you are best at!

  2. Brian,
    Good post and great confidence booster. When you think about, really, it you write a lot there’s bound to be some stuff that you write that’s going to stink. Better to write a lot of great stuff and some crud than nothing at all. I love the concept of slow blogging as well, where you write some really great pillar posts, but in between sometimes it’s going to be good and sometimes really bad. Your writings are really good for the real people out there, not those freaks of nature who are perfect!

  3. Oops, sorry Steve. I knew it was you who wrote the post, when I looked at the copyblogger logo at the bottom of this screen my fingers just typed “Brian.” A thousand apologies…hope you don’t take it personally!

  4. If I go back now and look at my writing when I first began blogging, I often wonder why anyone ever started reading my blog.

    My writing now is so much better than my writing of the past, and all I did was write, every day.

    I believe practice is the key to better writing.

  5. You mean I don’t need these stirrups?

  6. This is a very timely post. As I have been working on revamping my copy! Thanks.

  7. a dozen dead frogs in a bag of over-ripe stilton?

    …Surely no writing stinks that badly? Unless Jordan’s released another book…?

  8. Thanks copyblogger! I needed that message! You had great advice, and it really encouraged me.

  9. The voice you choose to write in has a lot to do with the confidence you exude as well. Passive voice leads to passive feelings about your writing, both from your and the reader. Meanwhile active, straight forward, writing gives your writing an air of authority, and will help build confidence in your readers and yourself.

    Matt

  10. Hi,

    I think this article brings out a great point of view. Writing is a form of art and a way to express yourself. And just like any art piece there are people that agree with it and people that don’t. Basically like every thing that exists in life.

    Being able to get over all those nasty remarks about how you write and keep on going will eventually pay off. More and more people that agree with you and like your writing style and appreciate the information you pass in your articles will visit your blog and subscribe and leave comments. And this will eventually lead to a great community that basically share the same ideas.

    @TomaBonciu on Twitter

  11. Well put!

  12. Very informative article, passed it on to my mom

  13. Thanks for the confidence booster shot. Lack of confidence is one of major issues. Sometimes I have to just feel the fear and do it anyway.

  14. Thanks, very inspiring. All the best :)

  15. Thanks for “How to Write With Confidence.” I wrote an article and when I read it I thought it was beyond bad and had no idea how to make it better.

    I decided to let it incubate and went to the library a few days later to try and reshape it. The incubation time and the change of scenery did wonders and with very minor changes I was able to turn a very bad article into a very good one.

    Sometimes we simply need to step back. We all have bad days and will never produce brilliant work all the time, so we have to be easier on ourselves and celebrate when we are on top of our game. Avil Beckford http://www.twitter.com/avilbeckford

  16. Thanks for the advice. Since I am a novice writer that really hits home. Hopefully I will start writing gooder and gooder now.

  17. Hey Steve,

    Thanks for writing this article. I am a “marketing director” for a team of Realtors. I decided to launch a blog and having the team write articles has been like pulling nails. I am forwarding a link to this article because it should instill some confidence in them via your simple 3 step process.

    Thanks for making my job easier!

    -Brendan

  18. Apologies for the stuck caps lock. Now that the stirrup thing is out of the way, I hasten to add that I find your site most helpful, and I look forward to meeting you at SXSWi!

  19. Numerous times I had been in this kind of situation when the words which fill my mind take a hard route to come out and it becomes insanely hard to express myself in a meaningful manner.

    And one more prob is, I cant break a sentence. I go on and on just like that. Thanks for sharing with us that there are hard times even for prolific writers too.

  20. Hi,
    I have been a fan and a disciple for copybloger for a long time but i’ve never given out my feelings until now.I can say it now loud and clear – YOU KNOW HOW A WRITER FEELS! KUDOS!

  21. Hi Steve. Those were great advices. Thanks a lot for that. I’m still learning your native language, but I got all you’d said.

    Best Regards,
    Monthiel

  22. This post wreaks of Gefilte fish!

    Just kidding, it’s a great post.

    I’ve never smelled Gefilte fish, by the way, but I’ve always wanted to say that something wreaked of its smell.

    Regards,

    Mattb4rd

  23. Steve! Dude!

    You know I’m big on confidence, so I was nodding all the way through. I think for me, confidence is knowing that I can’t be great all the time, so I write for myself first, and if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for everyone else.

    Of course, I’m smart enough to know that good enough for me isn’t perfection, either ;)

  24. “…write like nobody’s reading…”

    Surprisingly I have a Live.com blog and I write that for myself and it always seems better than when I write my regular blogs.

    I think you have a point there but its kinda hard trying to write like no one is reading when you know you’re writing for an audience.

  25. Great article. It can be such a struggle to write when you get hung up on it not coming out perfect from the start. I’m constantly battling the tendency to freeze up rather than let the lousy prose flow; but I know from experience that my first drafts are always garbage. There might be a decent paragraph in it; there might be only a single salvageable sentence. But the only way for me to get to the good is if I write the crap first. My talents aren’t in freewriting; they’re in rewriting.

    But it’s always a relief to hear of others struggling with the same blocks and fears. Thanks for the confidence boost.

  26. Great post – the 3 commandments of blogging. Once I started to feel good about my writing and my knowledge, it became much easier to write posts. If people don’t like my blog and or me, they don’t have to subscribe.

  27. One of my favorite quotes on writing comes from Nathaniel Hawthorne and provides a daily inspiration for me: “Easy reading is damned hard writing.”

  28. In song-writing and comedy there is a saying: “Write for the trash can.” You’ve exactly articulated the meaning of the saying in your post above. Maybe to be a good writer you first have to write?

  29. I noticed there are always knockers out there. People that rubbish you. Sometimes its personal, sometimes its just business but they are out there. What I suggest is look at the ones you are reaching and just talk to them. Ignore the knockers.

  30. My writing sucks but my confidence doesn’t. So I write over-confident crap and I’m proud of it. :D

  31. I was always taught to write and write and write. Even if it’s crap, you keep writing. The editing and rephrasing comes later.

  32. Thanks for the comments everyone, looks like it’s a familiar area for you. Just a couple of comments to respond to-

    @Stephanie: No worries, you should hear some of the other names I get called.

    @Mike CJ: Feel free to hand on to ‘em fella…!

    @Avil: Spot on – taking a break and getting a change of scene can work wonders.

    @Claudia: I’d LOVE to go to SXSW, but sadly I’m in London and have to sit in my flat and imagine how good it’ll be.

    @Mattb4rd: Glad I helped you tick that Gefilte fish box (I’ve never said that before either).

    @Jim Witkin: Love that quotation – exactly right.

    Thanks again everyone. Let me know if there are any other tips or strategies that work for you.

  33. For me, it helps to remember that I am not doing brain surgery. No one dies if I can’t quite get that sentence right.

    I put a fair amount of time into posts, but once they’re posted, they’re posted. When people find weird typos (I have a block about checking the spelling of names, apparently) or points that don’t make a lot of sense, I shrug & go on. That’s the nice part about blogging over books–there’s always another post coming. That’s one reason I think every writer should blog–just to get over ourselves a little bit.

  34. Nice article. I spend a lot of time trying to convince the very smart and knowledgeable people at my company to blog, and a lot don’t only because they are intimidated by the idea of writing. Ill be passing this one on – but I find the best advice is often to get someone to just start, whether they think what they’re writing is good or not. thanks again!

  35. “For me, it helps to remember that I am not doing brain surgery. No one dies if I can’t quite get that sentence right. ”

    haha that made me laugh!

    It’s important to remember that if do make mistakes then can still be rectified down the line still its worth getting someone external to read over things before or just after you publish them…

    This is a great post that I’m sure will pick up some peoples spirits!

  36. In my “how-to” guidebook, I have a chapter devoted to “Trusting the Message and the Messenger.” I believe this is the key to successful writing ,whether it be nonfiction bio-vignettes or a novel.

    I’m wondering if I could post this article in my blog? In the past, I have referred to (added hot links) to Copyblogger in my posts, but haven’t ever used an article, since I’m not sure the protocol to use…please let me know.

  37. Writing well doesn’t come easy, does it? This is a topic we’ve explored a little bit on our blog: http://inmedialog.com/index.php/archives/381/

    You’ve got good tips for pushing past the writer’s block and making sure we writers get the job done. In PR, a large part of what we do is writing and we don’t have the option of flying a white flag and giving up – the copy MUST be written, so employing tips like these is integral in order to keep the creative juices flowing.

  38. Aaah! It’s just so hard sometimes when it’s 3 in the morning and you’re contemplating another cup of coffee to get your brain working. You got work in 5 hours but you have to get this post done.

    Thanks for the pep talk. Every good writer needs one now and again.

    I’m sure most of you have read this, but I recommend the Book on Writing by Paula LaRocque. She’s quick-witted, lighthearted, and one hell of a writer and teacher.

    — Roland

  39. I agree that we should finish the work we started no matter how long it takes and whatever it takes. I used to start writing an article and leave it half way because I was running out of ideas and lose the confidence to finish it but that was a big lesson for me. Now, I prefer to write at night, seems to be more creative at that time compared to day time.

  40. Steve,

    Couldn’t agree more. I always try to remind myself that my goal is to be the best writer I can be on the day that I die, and not to focus too heavily on the fact that I’m not there yet. It’s a longterm goal, and if you lose sight of that, you’ll stop striving for it. Even the best still work to improve every single day.

  41. Good writers write. Truman Capote wrote from the time he was a small boy. He just wrote.
    Ask around..most people would say that they would like to be a writer. It almost seems like second nature (like childbirth?).

    Blogging has given birth to the writer in all of us. Some good and some not so good.

    It is actually quite fun! The more I write the more I have found my own style and sometimes the pickier I become.

    What I hate is when I go back and read a comment after I have submitted it and wonder what the heck I was trying to say. At least when I am blogging I can hit delete and start over again.

    Sheila

  42. @Sonia: Exactly, no hospitals are going to burn down because your punctuation isn’t perfect. Sometimes, it just doesn’t matter.

    @Linda: Nothing like a deadline to get you moving and stopping ‘just one more tweak’ syndrome.

    @Sarah: Good point – everyone should know when and how they write at their best.

    @Sheila: “Ask around..most people would say that they would like to be a writer.” – interesting. I think writing is in all of us – I feel a follow up post coming on…

  43. Writing is a journery…and it needs to keep on going.. Well said.

    But when I know that I am in my ebbs of writing – pushing myself further always had seemed like dragging dead weight along.

    To tackle times like that I change my style of writing, say I write long 600 words article, I write 50 to 100 words articles. I also change the field of writing.

    I widen my knowledge by venturing new blogging fields to keep me engaged rather than dragging with the same routine.

    This had really helped me. :)

  44. Your philosophy is awesome! Following through is so important. All successful people realize that failure is the cost of admission for success. Thanks for the great article.

    Check out my site sometime for comment along a similiar vain.

  45. I prepare for a new article by participating in conversations pertaining to a subject that I’m getting ready to write about. It is an easy way to throw out small ideas and get a feel for the type of responses my personal blog post might create. Jumping into a heated discussion on another blog always helps get the juices flowing.

  46. Interesting approach to copywriting. I like the idea of “letting go” a bit and following impulse and inspiration, but it is vitally important to review and review again once the text is ready. The vast majority of writing (certainly copywriting) is, after all, about influencing people and that requires both emotional and rational triggers.

  47. Very good article. It takes a lot of nerve to put ourselves out there on the line, write something, and then hit that ‘Send’ button.

  48. From a serious business writing point of view I agree with the writing to a deadline advice to keep yourself falling from into the “unlimited tweak” temptation. Don’t push yourself, as the writer says, but don’t get lazy as well because most of the time people will begin a piece but lose interest somewhere in the middle.

  49. Jacquelyn Mitchard at BEA LA said her books were like her children. I feel the same way. I gave them life. They’re mine. I want the best for them. And just like my babies, they were born with opinions, sweet or dill, cake or icing, stomping their feet or screams that break windows. And to change them, to attempt to change your writing to please others, well, it’s a lot like holding your head underwater, easy to start, deadly if you don’t stop.

  50. Great topic and one that we all need to focus on to keep up our confidence. I think sometimes we forget that writing is work and it is damn hard at times but if we can remember that we can stay grounded and plod ahead. I also think that we need to just sometimes write and get it out and then worry about grammer, thought, direction, what the reader thinks ,etc. Rough drafts are just that rough.

    thanks

  51. Becoming a decent writer has taken me years and years of practice and is truly something that needs to be mastered. This article is important as one must realize their true potential before actually feeling confident in their writing abilities.

    -AS

  52. gawd that sucked!!

    =D

    Just kidding. Honestly, that really gave me a boost that I hope lasts me. I’ve long had a problem with making sure nobody in the known Universe would have a problem with my writing and that everyone in the same range would love it. Thank you so much for addressing the issue with us writers and doing your part as one to help us through it.

  53. Loved this article…I am trying to teach my real estate agents how to blog and one of their biggest hurdles is confidence in their writing and ideas. Thanks for the great article. I hope you don’t mind, I’m reposting it in it’s entirety on our internal website for my agents to read and reference when they are lacking in confidence.

  54. This is such a great post. I can ponder over my work and still not change anything. Sometimes, as the old saying goes, you can’t see the wood for the trees, and this can be the problem with confidence. You’ve looked at an article for too long and all the words are jumbled.

    Thanks for the boost, it’s great to know that other people experience this too!

  55. Totally agreed about what confidence is … about trusting yourself that you will do a great job, doing what you are best at!

  56. Great article Steve, I’m going to print it out and keep it in front of me every time I sit down to write. You put into print exactly what I needed to hear and put in practice. Can’t thank you enough!

  57. Brilliant article,

    I really enjoyed it.
    Definitely feel more focussed on writing because of it.

  58. Awesome article, but I resent Stephenie Meyer being mentioned in the same sentence/paragraph as so many other great writers! :P

  59. Confidence is trusting yourself. It’s the key to writing because it’s the key to leadership, and writing is a form of leading.
    Your point about arrogance vs. confidence was excellent!

  60. Great article. I 100% agree. No one can please everyone. Everyone receives negative feedback.

  61. Excellent observations Brian.

    What you say applies not just to marketing around a great product, but also when what you are saying IS the product itself. That’s true of many blogs-as-businesses.

    I find that in my blogging, I switch between confident pieces and two sorts of tentative pieces. One sort of tentative piece is where I am saying stuff as an amateur in fields where there are real professionals out there who might decide to teach me my manners. Then there is the other sort of tentative-voice piece, where I am at the edge of what I know and writing with a “research” voice. Here comeuppance, if it arrives, is handed to you by nature, your own faulty logic, etc., not by other people.

    For my kind of blogging at least, I find that all 3 help build trust. Amateur tentativeness shows I am willing to learn from others even at the risk of making a fool of myself. Confident pieces demonstrate that I am not afraid to assert authority where I know I can, “research” pieces demonstrate that I am not getting complacent that I know everything there is to know even in areas where I credibly claim expertise.

    (Maybe that applies to products as well, the complex message being, “you love our doughnuts which we sell confidently, so trust us to produce a “researchy” vegan doughnut, or trust us to fumble and learn in the unrelated area of cupcakes…”)

  62. Sorry… meant “Steve” in the comment above. Saw Brian’s name in the email that brought me to this piece…

  63. Steve, thank you for an excellent post on The Power of Confident Writing. I know from experience that gratitude is a great confidence builder, too.

    I have also found when I “listen” to my research/interview materials I discover the foundation of facts, the nuances, and what captures my interest. Then I “think” about the various POVs and approaches to present the content to my readers. By trusting myself as a craftsman and my instincts, I can write with a confident voice.

    I agree, with many those commenting above, when I feel my writing is fodder for the recycling bin, but even in those moments of self-critical crisis, many times, if I step back and look for what I call my “tuning fork truth,” I find there is, indeed, a seed of inspiration just waiting to be discovered and nurtured.

    I, too, liken the writing and publishing my book, “Why … THANK YOU!” as giving birth. Though, I’d like to add that its marketing and promotion is like raising children, once a parent always a parent. I have discovered
    unexpected opportunities … teachable moments, course corrections, limitless rewards, and the multitude of blessings that flow from the experience.

    P.S. I knew I was a writer when I won the Girl Scout Cookie Jingle contest in 6th grade … won’t say how long ago that was ;) My only regret is that I didn’t keep a copy of the jingle, BUT I do have the original newspaper clipping from The Daily Record (Morristown, NJ)!!

  64. Thank you for the points made about confidence. But remember that the writing process includes different stages of writing, with different levels of quality produced. The first draft – which no one except the author should ever see – is going to be horrible, awful, “shitty” to quote Anne Lamont and Hemingway. That’s okay; that’s the way first drafts are supposed to be.

    The problem is that many beginning writers stop at the first draft, thinking that the draft is their final version. Wrong. Writing the first draft involves dumping the mind’s thoughts and ideas onto paper or screen. It’s a starting point.

    Writing is rewriting. Revision is the stage that allows the writer to create a better piece of writing, one that others will read with pleasure and learn from or be entertained by, or whatever the purpose is. Revision should take about 50% of the time of any writing project, whereas the drafting should take (at least with the process I use and have written about) about 10%.

    So faint not at those first words on the page or screen. Write out the contents of your mind and heart about the topic, then simmer (someone posting earlier talked of incubation – absolutely necessary for the writing process), then come back to the writing with new eyes (re-vision the writing). You’ll see problems that you couldn’t see before because you were too close to the writing.

    Know and understand the writing process. With that knowledge, the frustrations can be minimized and the joys accentuated. And you can write the work you’re meant to write and that readers are meant to read.

    Happy writing,
    Katie Ploeger

  65. I am really impressed with the quantity and quality of comments on your blogs. Real good stuff!

    I can’t really add anything to what you have written. It is clear that we need to write with confidence. We don’t believe in what we put on paper, why do it?

  66. Simple and inspiring :) Good luck!

  67. I was a Philosophy major in college and had to write papers all the time. I’ve seen articles in cw that speak to un-learning what we learned in college when writing for the Web, and I agree that some of that is necessary. Still, I think all those years of writing in college (and then later, in grad school) actually DID help me to find my voice.

    I still don’t have the confidence part down. I write like no one is reading, b/c that’s partially true. But so far, blogging is an exercise in my personal need to create and entertain whoever is listening… I figure it can only go up from here, right?

  68. I have been writing for over two decades and I cannot say if I am a very good writer or not.I have been well paid for it though.I am grateful for the gift.I truly believe writing is magical and that it can really change the world.In a sense,I am insignificant when I am writing.My doubts and feeling of confidence slips into the background.I just try to put in my best-I think that is the key issue.Write as best as you can,and then leave the rest.If you have done your best,what more can you do? Forget perfection-it is a myth.

  69. Wow, confidence. Just writing at all has boosted my confidence. I love the feedback whether positive or negative. Take the negative as a positive learning experience.

  70. Wow, this is so true: “Every writer writes rubbish, because writing requires it. It’s part of the process of great writing.” It is a constant fight for me to abandon perfectionism. Thanks for the reminder!

  71. Some additional thoughts on “confident simplicity” and writing, with examples, here:

    http://glennsc.com/start-a-revolution-with-confident-simplicity

    and here:

    http://glennsc.com/more-examples-of-the-confident-simplicity-wri

  72. Number 3 is close to my heart at the moment because i just posted a review on my own blog of the Japanese animated classic Whisper of the Heart, in which a girl finally decides to push herself to become a writer. She performs a kind of NaNoWriMo on herself, locking herself in her room and writing day and night, all the while scared to death that what she’s doing is lousy. But she finishes what she started — and that makes her a writer.

    Being great at something takes time, and it may never happen at all. But the willingness to leap over that abyss of doubt is the first and most essential quality that eventually takes us to whatever we can become.

  73. @Nancy: Absolutely agree – confidence is trusting yourself.

    @Karl: Thanks Karl.

    @Venkat: Don’t forget that it also takes confidence to write those pieces at the edge of your capability and experience. It’s much easier to write what’s safe and known.

    @Cat: Thanks Cat – keep on giving birth!

    @Katie: Good point, rewriting is essential, as is the confidence to trust yourself when rewriting.

    @Don: Awesome, thanks Don :D

    @Ayesha: Thank you!

    @Meg: Keep doing what feels right, and don’t put artificial limits on what you write and how you write it. You’ll nail it.

    @Michael: Spot on. What you’re describing sounds a little like “flow”, where the questions about what you’re writing and whether you’re good enough to write slip away and you *just write*. That’s confidence.

    @Christina: Good for you, love your attitude :)

    @Cat: You’re welcome :)

    @Glenn: Thanks fella, I’ll take a look.

    @William: “But the willingness to leap over that abyss of doubt is the first and most essential quality that eventually takes us to whatever we can become.” – love this, thanks.

  74. Great Information! Confidence is writing is a very hard thing to master. I am new to blogging, but am totally enjoying it. Tweet @bellajournals