But the expression of writing doesn’t stop at our doorstep—especially if we wish to make a living from it—and therein lies another added layer of difficulty: that of sharing and showing our labors to the world.
Many people don’t even get to that phase, though, because of a lack of confidence in their expression.
And this is an important distinction. It isn’t just the work we are putting out there for everyone and their uncle to see; we are putting ourselves, our thoughts, feelings, level of technical ability, and our hopes for future writing work out there on the line.
Here are several important steps to gaining confidence in your writing.
1. Be still, inner critic
The inner critic is a pervasive, sometimes rude, antagonistic, snooty, demoralizing and debilitating voice that initially came from without, not within.
As children we express freely and fully, not giving a care how we do it. It is usually through the voice or actions of well-meaning, or even outright harsh and cruel parents, teachers, siblings or peers that start the cycle of internal dialog that stays with us through adult life and impacts our ability to be free with our expression.
Failing to meet someone’s expectations can also be another killer of the creative expression—especially when the standards to to be met are near impossible or stem from a devaluation of the child’s own path.
I know people who had a mother or father who expected perfection of their child; but not only perfection, they had to align that perfection along a pathway suitable to the parent. And these people, no matter how hard they worked and succeeded under extremely harsh requirements, were still berated or their success downplayed because “they could’ve done better.”
I frequently shake my head at what some of my students have had to go through in early, and later, life with abusive parents. There is often a rebellious backlash and buildup of resentment for those things associated with the abusive parent, with the iron-step adherence to unreachable goals, whether it is related to writing or some other path.
And worse than a rebellious nature, a distinct, hamstringing fear can develop when one approaches any creative endeavor unique to the individual, one that had never been valued.
When on your own path in life, remember this: it’s your path. Set up a positive internal dialog that challenges EVERY negative notion you have accepted and that has been put upon you.
For some this is a very difficult, repetitive, day in and day out task. I applaud you for this effort. Challenging internal negativity is not easy. But then again, neither is the day in, day out existence of the writer.
If you can’t defeat your negative internal dialog, that personal critic, then you won’t ever reach a freedom and honesty in your writing, that unique perspective no one else has. You may not even start writing until you do.
2. Understand the outer critic, and then tell them to shut up
One doesn’t have to be rude to someone else who is rude. Simply dismiss them or their attempts at a self-serving agenda, and do not take what they say to heart.
Critics are interesting. When you understand a person’s motivations, it’s often easier to dismiss an ineffectual source to your growth.
The worst critics are those who are out to make a name for themselves by being the catchy go-to person for snarky, minimally creative expressions that tear one down in order to bring themselves up, and feed their own ego.
These people definitely have an agenda, and it most often is not to elevate the world of literature, but rather to make themselves the preferred resource for others who are not educated nor well-read and who are afraid to defend their own opinions. Beware the critics feeding their own egos.
For a person to respond on an emotional basis—whose foundation may be because their butcher didn’t didn’t give them the best cut of meat earlier that day—isn’t much of a skill or talent and borders on masturbation.
But there is also another reason…
How often have you heard someone say they are confident and pleased with their work, claiming they are actually good at what they are doing, only to have someone else immediately counter this with doubt and an expression meant to chop the person down a little—or a lot.
This is why people generally take a modest, humble approach in the praise of their own work; otherwise it invites that human tendency to bring that person down.
I’ve actually studied people doing this. In fact, I’ve specifically prodded acquaintances who didn’t really know me and friends who deeply respect me, by purposefully and boldly stating that, yes, I am good at this, or that. Even that I am great at this or that particular activity.
Now I’ve done this two different ways. In each case I was actually very good with my ability or in a particular activity. I’ve done this with people who knew my proficiency and skill, and those who did not.
Two ways I would approach it are:
I would be playfully arrogant, leaving no quarter in my confidence in either case. A example would be: “Oh really? Well, I’m quite superb at that, so it wouldn’t matter if I was given the task.”
And the other: “Yes, I am actually very good at that, though. So I can handle it.”
The instant reaction I get from both groups is direct challenge.
Close friends would either slyly look at me out of the corner of their eyes and then challenge my statement, making me defend it, which was sometimes fun all on its own because I could engage in a creative, playful debate with them. There was still respect present, but you could just see the entire physiology of the person change at the onset of my statements.
Some, depending on their own level of self-confidence, may simply look at me and say very little, reserving judgment but also watching and waiting to pounce for the time I demonstrate I am less than I claimed.
A few would boldly and arrogantly put me down, in the manner men sometimes engage when ribbing each other, though this was a bit harsher. This was something quite unexpected from these people and truly surprised me with their vehemence. However, it also called for my creative—and just as bold—countering to their “attack.”
Critics who are worth little to your growth are like this. They eagerly flex this instant human reaction as children running through the streets with arms flailing and hands holding sharp scissors.
3. Educate yourself in what good writing is by reading good writing
Really, do this. This is one of the best ways to understand what good writing is and can give you a goal to reach in your own growth.
I also firmly believe in the adage: Garbage in, garbage out. This is true in film production; it’s true in life.
If all you read is poor writing, it will seep into the structure of your own writing. If you don’t read much at all, you’ll have no foundation or understanding of pathways from which to launch your own expression.
Great writing elevates you, and the author is invisible. The Old Man and the Sea, by Hemmingway, is a great example of this; so is To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.
There are many others. Your job is to find them and know them. Let them help shape your path, not by copying them, but by understanding what good writing is. They are guideposts.
Good writing is honest and uninhibited.
4. Create your growing circle
This growing circle is an expanding group of people around you who will help shape you into the person you wish to become. They are positive. They see potential in hardship and propel themselves past their own perceived limitations.
They work hard daily at expressing the best in themselves.
For writing, pick people who love reading and who read often in your genre.
Also, pick people who read often in genres in which you don’t write.
The latter will sometimes give you a perspective those in your genre can’t give you. It can help you develop clarity, because you have to reach someone who doesn’t fully understand or embrace your mindset.
Also, pick some people who have technical ability in either the structure of writing or grammar and/or have an understanding of themselves in knowing what makes them respond to writing in a certain way. Their own honest insights can help you understand how individuals are moved emotionally or intellectually.
Pick friends, mentors or acquaintances who are confident in their own work and expression, whatever that may be, and then have them review or critique your work.
[callout1Remember, embrace the truth that is expressed if it makes your work better. Otherwise, dismiss it.[/callout1]
5. Dammit, Jim! I’m a writer not a (fill in the blank)
If you are a writer, write!
If you are a writer, you will already be writing and will have been doing it for a very long time in one form or another.
There is no greater way to gain confidence in your writing than to sit down with that blank piece of paper, your computer, your tablet, your phone, or with your finger and the sand on the beach, and write crap out of it.
The formula for getting a novel out is as follows: Write. Reflect. Share. Reflect. Write again.
Oh, and did I mention? Write.