How does someone develop confidence as a writer? And why is it even necessary?
Think of the difference between seeing someone speak with confidence and someone who doesn’t. While we are turned off by arrogance, confidence can help deliver a message by putting the emphasis on the message instead of the person. If a speaker is mumbling, fidgeting, apologizing, and speaking in a low voice, while we may have compassion for this person, it does not help in message – or story – delivery.
Lack of confidence can inhibit you from putting down even the first word. Lack of confidence can keep you from sharing your work, a necessary part of the writing process if you want to publish work you can be proud of.
So what do you do? It seems like a bit of a chicken and egg situation, but you build confidence by DOING. The doing then shows your brain you CAN do it.
Confidence comes from trying and failing and building resilience in order to keep trying, according to Kathy Kay and Claire Shipman in The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance –What Women Should Know:
Confidence “requires hard work, substantial risk, determined persistence, and sometimes bitter failure. Building it demands regular exposure to all these things. . . . Gaining confidence means getting outside your comfort zone, experiencing setbacks, and, with determination, picking yourself up again.”
So how to build that confidence muscle? Start with baby steps. First, practice writing in private in any way you can. Journal, write stories or record memories in a place where you can allow yourself to be terrible, to write the “shitty first draft,” as Anne Lamott says. Give yourself permission to be terrible. (You might also try one of these exercises.) Then you might find a class, workshop, or critique group to share your writing with. This can be scary. Take the time to find out if the facilitator is experienced and thoughtful about sharing critique; if it's a group of peers, research and decide on some ground rules. Getting feedback on your writing can be difficult. But know this: it will make you a better writer. And remember, it’s not personal. (You are not the poem.)
Once you have a decent short piece – an essay, story, poem, or article – find a way to share it. Perhaps post it on a blog or in social media for friends and followers. Making your work public in this relatively low-stakes way can be a good way to build that confidence and resilience.
You will likely worry what people will say. Or you might be disappointed when they don’t say anything at all. Know that people will have different reactions and responses. Whatever their response is IS NOT ABOUT YOU, even for very personal pieces. Consider, though, if any responses you get will help you be a better writer. Mostly, being a good writer is about clarity of message (as well as, of course, the substance of that message). Take what is helpful and ignore the rest.
Next, find a publication outlet that might consider it and start submitting. (Note that once you’ve posted it, even to a personal site, it might be ineligible for publication, so if this is your goal, do this first.) There’s no harm in shooting high, if the piece fits. If anything, it will help you weather rejection. Start collecting and being proud of those rejections. Rejection is a necessary part of being a writer. Eventually, you may need to find a smaller, more modest publication to submit to, and that’s ok too. Consider entering contests, too.
Growing confidence means having courage to take that first step, and continuing even when you fail or it seems hard. Trust that persisting, even in the face of self-doubt, can help you be a more confident writer.
More about confidence and writing in future posts!
I am not a poet. I don’t regularly read poetry. But I have read poetry, have written poems, and have taught poetry. I’m attracted to narrative, stories, characters, a fully developed character, plot and more. Poetry is like a tease.
But even for prose writers – even if you’re the most workaday prose writer – dipping your toes into poetry can be a way to enrich your writing.
First, poetry is something you can read in the matter of moments. You can read a complete poem in the time it takes to run a bath, brew a pot of coffee, or while waiting for your kid to be done with practice. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t savor it. Poems are meant to be read over and over, in quiet contemplation, to go back to again and again.
Second, poems give you glimpses into different worlds, different perspectives, tidbits of information and suggestions. Try writing a poem from the perspective of a character (real or imagined) and see what happens.
Third, poems can teach you about language. Every word, more so than in prose, is there for a reason. In poetry you often come across words you may not be familiar with. Poets use language in different ways, playing with their sounds, what they look like on the page, and their meanings. Poems can help you step outside of your usual nature of things. If you write poetry, you are forced to work with language differently. While it can be important for prose writers to not stop and worry about every word or sentence on the page, sometimes we also need to learn how to slow down and do exactly that.
Want to dive a bit further? Check out poets.org, where you can sign up to read or listen to a new poem every day.
Two nights ago, I went to see and listen to Paulina Porizkova, supermodel, actress, and author at the UAlbany Writers Institute. She is known by kids of the 80s from her appearance in the video "Drive" by The Cars - where she also met her husband, lead singer Ric Ocasek. She's been blowing up Instagram with her thoughts about aging, beauty, and more. She's controversial because she unapologetically tries to both celebrate and interrogate ideas of beauty, especially in a woman in her late 50s. She also talks and writes about the death - and betrayal - of her husband and the very real experience of grieving while under COVID lockdown.