At some point early in our writing careers, we find ourselves asking a painful question: What if I’m not good enough? It’s an early indication that writing confidence—the ability to write freely, unimpeded by self-doubt—can be hard to come by.
Creative writing anxiety is a natural response to the creative process. Writers themselves tend to be both emotional and analytical—traits which make for great writing, and also for a degree of insecurity. And overcoming the blank page requires a lot of mental fortitude. As Sidney Sheldon once said, “A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.”
Sidney Sheldon once said, “A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.”
So even the best writers worry that their next work isn’t good enough, or that they’ve peaked as writers. However, great writers have also learned the skills to build their writing confidence. Similarly, it’s important that we don’t simply let the challenge overwhelm us, but ask ourselves how we can feel more confident in our own writing. Writing confidence is essential if you want to grow your skillset, publish your work, or simply feel proud as a writer.
Yes You Can: 5 Steps to Nurture Your Writing Confidence
Whether you’re a poet, fiction writer, or essayist, this guide is designed to help you become a more confident writer. The five steps below are all things you can do starting today.
1. Cultivate a Confident Mindset
Self-confidence in writing starts with a healthy approach to the process. There are two ways to build a confident mindset: staying goal oriented, and controlling your internal dialogue.
Work Toward Realistic Goals
When creative writers lose faith in their work, it’s often because they forget what they’re working towards, or they set unrealistic expectations. For example, a writer might set out to finish a full-length novel, but they end up getting lost in the details: this character doesn’t feel right, this plot doesn’t make sense, etc.
Additionally, that novel writer might not have realistic goals for themselves. They might expect to finish their novel in two months, or expect to write a chapter a day.
To feel more confident as a writer, create realistic goals with concrete checkpoints.
Like anything else, creative writing is work. With work comes measurable goals and an emphasis on the big picture. To feel more confident as a writer, create realistic goals with concrete checkpoints. If you’re writing a novel, maybe try writing a chapter every two weeks; if you’re writing a poem, try finishing a draft one week and editing the next.
Your writing confidence depends on a healthy mindset. You’ll find that the writing process is much more enjoyable when you give yourself room to breathe.
Control Your Self-Talk
Building confidence in creative writing is hard when your internal dialogue is overly critical. When you write, a part of your brain is occupied with the blank page, and another part is analyzing the words you put down. When that part of the brain tears down the words as they flow out—“This doesn’t make sense.” “Who am I to write about this?” “No one will enjoy this.”—you create a habit of impulsively disparaging your work.
This is a problem that even successful writers have. However, to create a healthy writing habit and feel confident in your work, controlling your internal dialogue is crucial. Be aware of your self-talk, and try to respond to those critical comments you have about your writing. Take this chart, for example:
|Instead of this…||Say this:|
|I’ll never get this piece right.||I can make this perfect in the editing process.|
|This piece isn’t working, it’s doomed to fail.||This is only a first draft, it doesn’t need to be perfect.|
|Who am I to write this?||Who am I not to write this?|
|I’m no expert at this.||I can become an expert with practice.|
Whether you’re a poet trying to find the right word, an essayist struggling to finish a memoir, or a fiction writer stuck on the next plot point, don’t let negative self-talk interrupt your creative process. Everything you need is already inside of you.
2. Make Writing a Daily Habit
Developing your writing confidence is a daily process; so is creative writing itself. Often, a writer leaves the page for too long, comes back to their work, and loses confidence in themselves to finish a project or start something new. Either they’ve lost the creative spark that drove them, or they haven’t flexed their writing muscle in a bit, so now they’re ridden with creative writing anxiety.
Try to find some time—even just 10 minutes a day—to put your thoughts on the page.
Building confidence in creative writing takes time. An athlete who didn’t go to the gym wouldn’t feel confident in herself; neither would a musician who doesn’t practice his instrument. Writing is no different, so try to find some time—even just 10 minutes a day—to put your thoughts on the page.
3. Address What’s Making You Doubt Yourself
Writers struggling with self-doubt tend to avoid their work. It’s only natural. If you think you can’t rise to the challenge of creative writing, then the process of getting words on the page will feel painful, and writers will inevitably procrastinate.
Here’s a little secret about procrastination: we don’t do it because we’re lazy, we do it because we expect negative emotions out of the task we’re avoiding. Sometimes, being more confident as a writer involves addressing those negative emotions head-on.
Ask yourself why you expect to fail at your writing project. Is it because you don’t think you’re an expert? Do you think you lack the skills, or the experience, or simply the time to write? On top of controlling your self-talk, this type of self-awareness is a therapeutic tactic called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and when you have these conversations with yourself, you give yourself the mental control to overcome your creative writing anxiety and build up your confidence.
4. Keep Yourself Educated
The question of expertise is universal among writers. This only makes sense: it takes a lot of knowhow to talk about the world, and when the English lexicon exceeds half a million words, creative writers of any genre are bound to feel daunted by their own work.
One of the best pieces of advice for writers is to always keep reading.
This is why one of the best pieces of advice for writers is to always keep reading. By paying attention to craft and understanding what makes good pieces of literature so memorable, you can implement new writing tactics and skills in your own personal work. All creative writing is a conversation between other writers and the greater canon; as a participant, reading other works is essential, and will help you build your writing confidence.
Additionally, there are some books that every writer can read to feel more confident in their work. These are our top recommendations:
- The Elements of Style – Strunk & E.B. White
- Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King
- Steering the Craft – Ursula K. Le Guin
- A Poetry Handbook – Mary Oliver
5. Fake It Till You Make It
Writing confidence isn’t something you build overnight, it’s something that must be practiced and cultivated. Our last piece of advice is not only to harness this confident mindset, but also to display confidence in your writing. When you talk about your work to other people, don’t just mention how hard writing is—talk about why the work is ambitious or exciting for you.
When you talk about your work, don’t just mention how hard writing is—talk about why the work is ambitious or exciting for you.
Publicly believing in your work does two things. First, it creates a habit of positive self-talk, informing the ways in which you view your own writing. Second, it influences other people to talk about your work with confidence, creating a positive feedback loop that makes you more confident as a writer. Be confident in your writing even if you don’t feel that way, and eventually, it won’t be an act – you and your peers will know that you’re the real deal.
Writing with Confidence: An Ongoing Journey
Self confidence in writing isn’t easy, but with these tips, you’ll learn to appreciate your work the same way your readers do. Doubting yourself is natural, but don’t let it get in the way of your writer’s journey—your words are valuable, you just need a little faith.
Want to explore writing with confidence further? Let our award-winning instructor Giulietta Nardone help!