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I – like many writers – struggle with feeling confident about my writing, books and career as a whole. And as feelings go, this one is entirely unproductive. It makes me less likely to write, which makes me less likely to finish, which in turn makes me less likely to achieve my goal – and the cycle goes on.  

But there are ways we can break this cycle and start thinking about ourselves as successful writers – even when we might never have had any success before. Some of these are techniques borrowed from Sophie Hannah’s brilliant Dream Author program. Some are from writing friends, and some are my own.  


1) Stop expecting perfection. No writer gets it right first time. First drafts are meant to be awful – the point is to just get the words down.  


2) Stop defining success as something you don’t have. Have an idea you’re excited about? Success. Finished a draft of a book – WELL DONE. Give yourself credit and stop moving the goalposts before allowing the confidence you gain from achieving a goal to sink in.  


3) Stop reading your work back all the time. What you wrote yesterday doesn’t define what you will write today.  


4) Stop telling yourself you can’t do this. You can. It might be hard, but everything worth doing always is.  


5) Go.  


What are your tips to feeling confident in your writing? Share them below!


Comments
    • Thank you for this Sarah. Having had something of a crisis of confidence combined with life circumstances getting in the way of writing (and being here) for some months, I found it hard to come back to writing. Not sure I have any helpful tips, but last year I did start a notebook of compliments people have made about my writing. That helps a bit. Also turning aside from the big project that is going nowhere and tackling a few smaller, easily achievable pieces sometimes helps jumpstart me- a few non-fiction articles for a local charity, and a poem or two that may never be seen by anyone. There’s no pressure or stress there and I can enjoy the process of marshalling ideas and words together into a vaguely coherent form. And if they serve as a bridge back into more challenging projects then so much the better.

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      • Something my wise old grandma used to say, not specifically about writing but about life in general: 'remember that you're no better than anybody else but you're no worse either.' A pretty good basis on which to approach your life and also helpful if you're feeling that what you are doing is not quite up to scratch. Coining Nike's slogan - 'Just do it.'

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        • Point number one is my first point of call. Yes, I know that some of the words I've merrily bashed out during the day are rubbish, BUT - I do know what my thoughts were. There is always time to go back and correct those dratted words later.

          Secondly, for me, NEVER EVER give yourself a goal of getting a book in print, at the first attempt. Approach it like eating an elephant - one bite at a time. Or, treat it as you would do in building up a project plan for an IT project. What are all the individual phases and activities that need to be included? Once identified, celebrate the completion of each one, once they've been reached. And really celebrate, no modest cup of tea with biscuits, several bottles of wine at least. But don't get too drunk, 'cos you'll still need to write the next day.

           

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          • What's really helped me is to consult the experts. By experts, I mean the people who have written a lot of stuff. These people know the ins and outs of story, and if you intersperse your own writing with some guidance from those who have gone before you, you should be in good shape. I don't know about anyone else, but I sometimes delude myself into thinking I have to do this writing thing alone, like I'm the first person to ever wonder if my writing is any good. But learning about the craft, not just by reading other people's work but by actually learning the craft (just like you would do if you were trying to develop any other skill), can help you move in the right direction. 

            A therapist once told me that confidence isn't something that appears out of thin air. You develop it over time as you become more skilled. And, to develop my writing skills, I've found it helpful to combine some of the strategies others have gone to the trouble to offer up and then practice, practice, practice. 

            Also, I agree with Geoff. Wine is very useful.

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            • Thank you for this, Sarah.

              I must admit, over the last few months I've had a bit of a crisis in confidence in my ability to tell any sort of a story. 

              A few months ago, I thought I'd had a bit of a break-through with my novel, which I was heavily invested in. Sadly, it became apparent that I was fooling myself, and several weeks of fundamental re-thinks and re-works simply confused me even more. So Membra's story has become a source of frustration and fear rather than pleasure and excitement. Her world seems very far away, and grows more distant day by day. Hard, this stuff, isn't it?

              Writing used to give me huge pleasure (even when it was hard) but has been almost impossible recently. I still try most days, tinkering with little vignettes or short story ideas, but nothing seems to come, and ideas peter out or go nowhere. The will is there, but the writing just won't come... even in 'awful draft' form. I'm at a bit of a loss, really.

              Oh well, never mind! I've used the time to catch up on my reading back-list, at least, and re-directed some of whatever creativity I've got into other hobbies, and I live in hope that my confidence will return eventually. Maybe the webinar tomorrow evening will help!

              And perhaps I'll take a look at Sophie Hannah's program too.

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              • Thank you, Robert!

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                • It wasn't self-pitying at all, Jon. It was a clear expression of a problem with sadness in it. That's how it felt to me anyway. Maybe people reacted as they did because it came as a surprise, and because you are such a talented writer. Even though we all know better, there can be an unconscious assumption that a talented writer doesn't have crises of confidence. But look at George Orwell, to mention one name that comes immediately to mind...

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                  • Thank you, Jon. Sophie's post on Resilence, the one Donna just commented on, might be more helpful than the 2 I mentioned. It's higher up on her page, and I missed it yesterday. (Scrolling down too fast  ;-) )

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                  • I guess writing is no different to anything else really. I’ve always had a bit of imposter syndrome in my real job so why not in writing? You know “why would anyone want to read anything by little old me?” One thing that helps with confidence is being a member of something as supportive as JW. Seeing that other writers (even real writers with real published actual books) also have these doubts helps put things back in perspective. Also we have to learn to not be so hard on ourselves. Mo Farah wasn’t always an olympic and world champion. He had to train and before that he had to learn to run and before that he had to learn to walk because just like anyone else he started off crawling. So why should the first thing we write be an international best seller. As others have said celebrate the little victories. If you have just scribbled some rough notes then you are a step forward from a blank page!

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                    • A big Thank You to Sarah for posting this.  

                      As someone who feels pretty confident (most of the time...) I think that my confidence comes from allowing myself to experiment and not being too demanding or judgemental with myself. A bit like a child that is given a blank page and some crayons: he's not concerned about the end result, just the fun of experimenting.

                      I'm not concerned about not being good enough to get published: the enjoyment of writing is what matters most to me.

                      I approach writing, one sentence at a time, one scene at a time... like Geoff's advice for eating an elephant - one bite at a time. And surely we are all able to write one sentence at a time, aren't we? Ok, let's make that sentence a good one. How do we do that? By distilling the idea in our head into something very simple and clear. Rinse & repeat. And if possible, add some hidden meaning or subtext: layers here and there. A bit like an haiku.

                      I read somewhere that good writing is the art of saying great things with simple words. Maybe if we aim for simplicity first, we can always add complexity later.

                      Jane Austen always worked her sentences in her head first, because paper was very expensive. When she put pen to paper she had already a clear idea of the sentence(s) she was going to write, because she had worked and reworked them in her head first. This is something I do as well and it saves a lot of clutter on the page. I do it, not because of the price of paper, but because I enjoy writing sentences that feel clean & edited.

                      Hope this helps. Glad to answer any questions on this.

                       

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                      • Tell me about it. The problem is when I scribble notes, I can't actually read them. This is why phones are handy. But even with that, I've catalogues of file on OneNote, but because my memory is so bad, when I flick through them I forget what they mean. I should really be more organised.

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                        • It won't come back. It was some thirty years ago. An absolutely perfect torture scene…

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                          • I’m exactly the same Jimmy

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                          • Sarah, I feel many of your words are based on a premise I don't agree with. You said, 'first drafts are meant to be awful.' I disagree. Awful to whom? No readers have seen them yet. Therefore you mean, 'awful to you.' First drafts are the guts of your story, if you've written them without a plan, all the better, they'll have more heart. First write the book for yourself and stuff everybody else. Love for your words will flow from the heart you put into them. It's the story that counts, not the words you write to please others (at first draft stage). Don't forget, you become your protagonist, you have her license to write what you wish. She can think and do anything, she doesn't worry about what people will say. Nor does she have your hesitance and lack of confidence. Just be her. Put your heart on the page and say fuck if you wish. 

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                            • Well said, Robert. I wouldn't like to feel my first draft was awful. If I did, I might throw it in the bin and stop writing. But by concentrating on one scene at a time and writing one sentence at a time, and making each sentence a good one, I always feel like writing on. My first drafts are not perfect, but I feel I can use them as the foundation.

                              And nobody is judging my first draft, not even myself. 

                              Spread the LOVE 💙 💛 💚 but leave enough for yourself too.

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                            • I remain confident as long as nobody else reads my work. The worse is when you get a story published and not a single person comes by to say well done I enjoyed that. Then I think it must be rubbish. I try to make a positive comment to every story I read online that I enjoy but never feedback if I don’t care for it. I assume others must do the same. Am I wrong?

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                              • Hi David, these threads can get confusing in terms of who is replying to who. I think the 'unknown' in this one refers to comments made by Mike but maybe he's left the site. The JW software has slotted in my name instead as an addressee of one of Connie's comments. This is a glitch - perhaps I was the nearest name to hand . 

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                                • And for me, it’s my name that fills in for the absent Mike. Must just be some quirk of the site that happens when someone’s account is de-activated.

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                                  • Catherine has it right. 

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                                  • Mike, you are wrong. Because everyone is busy, they might not have the time to invest. Good feedback takes time. I usually spend around 2 hours minimum reading twice and writing feedback on a small piece. Sometimes I read pieces with the aim of giving feedback, but something comes in between (like shopping & cooking dinner) and I don't have the time. True, when something is outstandingly good I always make a note and come back to it later. Also when I see something posted by someone that has given me advice in the past, I always try to reciprocate.

                                    If you engage with others and give feedback on their work, they will  come back to you and offer feedback on yours. Networking on this site works well and everyone is very generous.

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                                    • I've just listened to Sophie Hannah's podcast Building Resilience (link on OP) and I'm not totally convinced. Ok, our thoughts create our feelings, I agree. And we can manipulate our thoughts and feelings into positive ones, I agree. I do that all the time.

                                      But we can't change the reality that many / most writers will never experience success, because the market is flooded & saturated with novels to be read by an ever dwindling number of readers. We live in "the age of mass distraction & busyness". We can't change that. Maybe we should change / adapt our goals instead.

                                      The only thing we can do to keep ourselves happy & sane is acknowledge reality and write for pleasure, for ourselves, for the fun of it. Any other goal is likely to bring deception. If in the end we achieve SUCCESS... that'll be a bonus.



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                                      • Not entirely true… Ads on Amazon are so damned expensive because Amazon have decided to squeeze every penny they can from the process. Organic ranking has all but disappeared.

                                        Successful self-pub authors who used to be able to take home the 70% margin are now finding themselves needing to pay Amazon more than half their take to rank well enough to achieve the sales they had before.

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                                        • Thanks again, Rick. Mine is as good as I can make it, I'm at the stage where I'm changing things back to the original. Regarding the sewage, 'Look inside' soon sorts that out. Somewhere in this discussion a feel a point is being lost. Stephen King books are there, Outlander, the Tom Clancy books, and probably everything else. Okay, the junks there also, but I'm happy to join the likes of them if needed. And Harry is there.

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                                          • The opinions can go on forever. The point was that trad is a big player on Amazon and are forcing cost up. It is because they can see the future. Your last statement is relative. The quality of the ads and promotions being a major determinant of the cost per sale.

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                                          • Hi Jon, I'm sorry that writing is proving so difficult and I hope this soon passes. I can try to guess how it feels from my experience of quite often being too tired to write and my mind being unable to form sentences or have ideas. It's not really the same but I can relate to frustration. It's good that you're able to read. The reading backlog can be a source of comfort -- keeping in touch with writing and feeling you're still doing something. My fingers are crossed that things soon improve.

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                                            • Thank you, Libby, for the kind words. 🙂 

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                                            • One point, I think worth remembering is that writing a book and getting it published are two completely different things. Writing a good story, editing it, re-writing it, taking on board criticism, learning to be objective with your own script, being brutal, dealing with self-doubts, angst and general insecurities are all part of the journey (sorry I hate that phrase hijacked as it has been by the X Factor/Voice/add any talent/reality show - world).

                                              Then, once you are eventually as happy as you can be with your work - you'll never be completely happy so don't expect that - it's time to learn how to get published - how to approach agents, write query letters, synopsis's, biographies, elevator pitches, what to add in, how many words to use, how to find out your genre (if it's not obvious). Finding agents/publishers that dabble in your genre, who might lower themselves to read your carefully crafted submission, is a huge undertaking in itself. 

                                              Then, of course, you have to take on and deal with the criticism (if you're lucky) or more likely, the complete indifference your submission produces and either change and re-submit or give up and start afresh on something else. (Or self-publish - another huge learning curve).

                                              Personally, I always find the submission bit much harder than actually writing the book, because suddenly you are no longer master of your own destiny, sitting typing in your own world with no expectations and no competition. Now, you are in the dog eat dog world where everyone and their dog ( the one's that have not been eaten) are trying to get their book published and it is tough, perhaps it's designed that way to sort the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys, the girls from the ladies and whatever the gender neutral equivalent may be. 

                                              Which is why you have to enjoy the creative process. If you enjoy making stuff up then chances are you'll cope, as the pay off of doing that, will make up for the hard work that lies ahead, and also if you enjoy it chances are, that will translate into the end product making the story better and easier to read.

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                                              • I guess I'm in a fortunate place...I already know I'm not Ernest Hemingway. I just like writing. Fortunately, I don't need the money or the recognition that comes from being a published author. I've simply fallen in love with my characters and I'm anxious to see how their lives unfold. So I'm writing for myself, for my characters (who have no life without me) and for a grandchild whom I hope will one day find the stories interesting. Pleasing an agent and making money would be nice but neither will define me. My success is in feeling good about what I've written...by my OWN sense of what's good. That doesn't mean I don't accept criticism. Heck, I've used five differeent beta readers and found their insight and advice to be extremely valuable. But as long as I'm pleased with what I've written (and edited profusely), then I'm confident in my writing, because I've accomplished what I set out to do...fulfill my desire to tell an interesting story.

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                                                • Reidr- I hope to get to that place.  I've struggled now for a couple of years.  I love the depths of research I've done.  I love trying to put myself in the place of the characters.  Though I would love to sell something and get that validation, right now I'm doing this for me.  I've been retired for over five years now.  I've traveled- I've stepped in the places where I think Arthur and Vortigern and Magnus Maximus have been.  I explored Hadrian's Wall and northwestern Scotland.  I've been in Kilmartin Glen and Dalriada- and so many other places across Great Britain.  If I do nothing else, it's been worth it.

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                                                  • I love this quote from Fernando Pessoa (portuguese poet):

                                                    "Ah, it's my longing for whom I might have been that distracts and torments me!"

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                                                    • Hey David, Sounds as though you and I have a lot in common. We may be 'retired' but we've never really stopped working, have we? We're just getting to do the things we choose to do (which, for me, has included some consulting gigs). I haven't done as much traveling as I'd like (long story). I travel to different places with my characters. 

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