One thing the online writing community has taught me is that a lot of writers suffer from self-doubt and don’t necessarily feel supported as writers.
And while I relate to these feelings to some extent, I’m fortunate in that my formal writing education and my paid writing and editing positions have boosted my confidence.
In fact, while professional writers suffer from self-doubt like everyone else, many of us seem to work through our uncertainty with less turmoil than a lot of our friends who don’t have writing day-jobs of some sort. I think this is because we’ve gotten a lot of outside validation concerning our writing skills and as a result have a great foundation from which to validate ourselves when we face setbacks.
But guess what? You can have that confidence without getting a writing-related degree or a job in copywriting. Here are five ways you can gain the confidence of a professional writer without already being one.
- Get Lots of Feedback
Giving your work to someone for review can feel like handing over your heart and soul, and constructive criticism can feel like a mortal wound.
However, when you write text for people’s websites, term papers, and so forth every day for years and get continual feedback, individual pieces become less important to who you are as a person. Your heart, soul, and writing skill are separate from any given story or paper. As Clara Oswald’s mom would say, “A soufflé isn’t a soufflé. The soufflé is the recipe.”
Sure, you might particularly like a story you wrote, and rejection isn’t fun. But still, if someone tells me, “this plot isn’t compelling,” my response will be something like, “Oh, why?” or “Yeah, I know it’s boring — now that I’ve focused on dialogue for a bit I’ll put more work into not being Henry James.”
I have clinical depression and anxiety, so I get that some people’s reaction to such criticism would be to think, “Oh, no, this means I’m a terrible writer.” I’ve done that before. But because I’ve written a lot of stuff and gotten tons of feedback (also mental health treatment), the feedback exchange is more a business matter for me now than an emotional one.
My purpose in having others read my work is to know where the weak and strong points are in others’ view, not to seek validation of myself as a person or a writer. I’ll evaluate the criticism and then take it or leave it.
You can do the same thing: write short pieces as well as long ones, and get lots of criticism. You might want to start with getting feedback on warm-up exercises you wrote quickly or other pieces you don’t have a deep investment in.
Criticism can sting, but with the right attitude, the process can help you separate your writing and your self-worth.
- Market Yourself As a Writer
Because writing is my job, I have to go to job interviews and tell smart people that my writing is amazing and that they should give me money for it. I have to list my strengths.
Then, when people ask me what I do for work, I tell them that I’m a writer. Saying those things over and over helps me feel more like a “real writer” with my creative work, even though I don’t write books for a living.
While you might not have the validation of money, you can bite the bullet and tell people that you’re a writer when they ask what your interests are. You might find that while you feel self-conscious about the label, everyone else just accepts it and keeps talking.
- Don’t Discount Real-Life Writer Friendships
Internet friends are great. But while they can last as long as any friendship that begins face-to-face, many internet relationships are more fragile and less consistent than a bond with someone you have regular face-to-face contact with. This is 400x more true if you rely on likes, follows, and other social media metrics for validation.
Further, something about existing in the same physical space as people who have the same writerly concerns as you is powerful too.
My co-workers who are writers and editors have a lot of the same hobbies and concerns as I do, and their friendship reinforces for me that my interests and desires are valid, normal, and good. We have a lot of the same interests and problems, and we can support each other online too.
Joining a local writers’ guild, poetry group, or critique group can give you many of the same benefits. The physical presence of other people makes the writing parts of your life feel real in a way that internet conversations might not, and seeing writing friends regularly helps you avoid the feeling that you have a secret life.
Plus, if you have scheduled meet-ups at or away from your house, you might have an easier time drawing boundaries around your writing time, and your family might have an easier time seeing that writing is an important part of your life.
- Gain Technical Skills
You may not like grammar or editing, but learning what parallel structure is and how to use a comma appropriately will make you a much better writer and critique partner.
And aside from the fact that being a better writer will help you be more confident in your abilities, the ability to name what you see is powerful. As with Tom Riddle, you have more power when you use the proper names for things. (Unless the name is literally cursed.)
Intuitive knowledge of what makes good writing is great. However, when you can also label the things that bug you, you can more easily fix problems and view the edits as triumphs rather than failures or signs of incompetence.
- Work With a Master
In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the characters gain their skills in bending by working with a master. For example, Sokka feels really down on himself for not being a bender, but he finds more confidence by training with a master swordsman.
Writing is no different: if you can, work with writers who are more skilled than you are.
My teachers, professors, and bosses who have mentored me have told me hard things in order to make me better, but they’ve also given me the conviction that I’m a good writer.
Books and articles on writing are important, but critique groups, conference workshops, and the like are invaluable because they’re specific to your writing. Personalized advice and encouragement from someone who knows what they’re talking about give you a better grasp on your strengths and weaknesses like nothing else will.
Are you part of any writing groups? If so, how do they help you reach your potential?