What’s the opposite of confidence? Anxiety, fear, and procrastination.
It wasn’t until I read The Confidence Code that I realised that anxiety is the opposite of confidence, but it makes sense. Anxiety is all about feeling like you’re not the best person for the job. When you’re confident, you know that you are.
Many of us fake confidence every day. In our jobs, our relationships, even to ourselves. And it can work, to a degree. There’s something to faking it until you make it, or it wouldn’t have been such common advice for so long.
However, sometimes we don’t realise what we’re experiencing is a crisis in confidence. After all, if you’ve been in the habit of doing something for a really long time—or you don’t know any better—how are you supposed to know that what you’re doing is detrimental to your confidence?
Over the last few years, teaching writing, editing, and learning about myself, I’ve come to spot some key signs when writers are lacking in confidence. It’s scary how common these things are, too.
Which of these are you guilty of?
1. You edit as you write
I’ve written at length before about why editing as you write is a bad idea.
If you haven’t read my rants before, it’s as simple as this: when you edit as you write, you’re judging something that’s really new to you.
Which means, unlike your readers—aka the people whose opinions really matter—you can’t be objective.
To be able to edit your work effectively, you need to be able to emotionally separate yourself from it. If you can’t do that, you have confidence issues.
It’s not just that, though.
Writing and editing are two different skills.
They use two different parts of the brain, too.
When you do them together, it’s multi-tasking, which, despite what the myths would have you believe, is a really bad idea.
Multi-tasking makes you less productive and means the work you do is of a lower quality.
Which means you’ll end up spending longer editing once you’re done anyway.
When you can give something your full attention, the end result is of a higher quality, and you’ll be able to view it more like a reader or professional editor could when it’s time to get the red pen out.
2. You need validation from others before working on an idea
We’ve all been there. You have a new idea, but you’re not sure if it’s a good one, so you ask your friends.
But the thing is, they’re not writers.
Or they don’t even like the same genres as you.
So how can they possibly judge?
Not to mention a lot of what makes a good idea is something that you actually want to write, and only you know if you really do or not.
The more you rely on other people for feedback and input, the more significant of a sign it is that you’re lacking in confidence. It could be you lack confidence in general, or you’re feeling insecure/uncomfortable about a particular idea.
3. You can’t finish anything
At one point, I had over 20 novels on the go. I finished none of them.
I’d be filled with enthusiasm and excitement at the start, but when I got a few chapters in, either my interest would fizzle out, I’d run out of plot, or my confidence would nose dive.
When you embark on writing a novel, you need to know before you start if the story has enough conflict to carry it through. A story without any conflict isn’t a story. It’s also really boring to read.
It’s like forcing someone to sit through the slides of your scuba diving holiday. (Remember those days? When we could holiday abroad and be more worried about the plane falling out of the sky than catching someone’s germs? Wait. I was paranoid about both of those before all of this. Moving on.)
Readers are more interested in stories with lots of conflict. Conflict raises more questions, and this is vital to improving read through.
The more questions there are, the more readers need to know what happens next.
If you’re stuck on an idea, there’s no harm in getting input from the people around you. Be grateful that they’ve taken the time to help you, even if you disagree with them.
And if you’re really not sure if an idea is right, it probably isn’t, so keep thinking and come back to it.
You can always work on a different project while you mull over your current one.
You may find the solution to your current issue when you’re not even trying. This has happened to me so many times I’ve lost count.
On the other hand, if I put too much thought into something, it takes me longer and what I come up with isn’t as good since I don’t work well under pressure.
4. You can’t concentrate during writing sessions
Ever find yourself flitting between multiple tabs when you’re meant to be writing? Maybe you’re talking to a friend at the same time, or also watching TV.
Not only is multi-tasking really bad for your brain (as we’ve already discussed), but a lack of focus shows that you’re uncomfortable with what you’re doing. This is usually a sign that you hold some anxiety around it.
(Or it could be a sign you have ADHD. Wider context will help you discern which camp you fall into.)
Maybe you don’t feel good enough, or you’re afraid of something. It’s common to be afraid of the thing we want the most. You certainly wouldn’t be the first writer to experience this, and you won’t be the last.
I used to be a terrible multi-tasker. I wore it like a badge of honour. If I didn’t have a Messenger conversation open while I was writing, there was something wrong.
It took me a few years to realise how detrimental this was. I was trying to keep up with what my characters were saying to each other, and what I was saying to my friend(s), and I had the TV on in the background. It’s too much when you’re trying to tell a compelling story.
Nowadays, when I write, my characters gets my full attention. I stick my AirPods in, put on a playlist related to my work in progress, and get to work.
If I really want to get into the zone, I put some noise-cancelling headphones on to block out everything around me. This works so well I don’t notice when people walk into my writing room until they’re standing next to me ?
It helps to get yourself into your writing zone before you start. Extra points if you know what you’re going to write, too.
You’ll always be more productive if you know what direction you’re headed in, even if you take a different route than you’d originally planned to get there.
5. You can’t free write
Free writing is the ultimate form of self-trust. It’s when you throw everything onto the page without worrying about if it will stick or not. It requires the ability to mentally relax, but it can also train you to relax mentally. Like meditation, it’s exercise for your mind. It’s a different kind of exercise compared to meditation, though. Think of it like cardio for your brain.
Free writing is, by far, the best way to get your book written quickly. It’s the secret to winning NaNoWriMo without sacrificing your socialising or reading time.
Much like many other parts of a successful writing career, free writing is both a skill and a muscle. It’s no different than running on a treadmill. The more you do it, the faster you’ll be able to go. If you stop for a while, your speed will slow down because you’re out of practice.
6. You’re terrified of feedback
There’s a difference between being nervous about getting feedback (that’s normal), and being so terrified to hear what others think that completed stories sit on your hard drive (or in a drawer), unloved and almost forgotten for years.
While it’s worth putting an idea to the side for a little while so that you can edit it objectively, when you leave it in there purely so that other people can’t read it, you have to ask yourself: ‘why?’
Why don’t you want other people to read it?
Is it really that bad?
Or is your confidence really that bad?
These are two very different things.
Truth is, most writers suck at viewing their work objectively. They tend to fall into two camps: the ones who think everything they write is amazing, or those who are paranoid everything they write is terrible.
Even those of us who can separate our personal feelings from our inner editor can suffer from the fear that our writing sucks.
I’ll let you in on a secret, though: most of the writers who think everything they write is amazing are actually pretty bad at writing. You know why? Because they’re not open to getting feedback.
Feedback from other writers and editors is key to growing as a writer. You can’t improve without it. But unless you know that there’s always room for improvement, you’ll never be open to hearing what others have to say.
And, as a writer, you need a thick skin. Anything a fellow writer or editor will say isn’t nearly as harsh as some of the negative reviews you’ll get. And those reviews can sting. Like, wasp-sting-to-the-eye, pain.
Quite often, those negative reviews are a reflection on the reviewer and not on you. Reviewers use them to project their frustration at their personal lives, kind of like how trolls don’t deal with their own self-hatred so take it out on others.
You can’t change that, though. You need to be comfortable enough with yourself that you can handle those crummy comments. Getting as much feedback as you can from as many sources as you can helps you to do this.
7. Writing is the first thing you neglect when times get tough
When I was depressed, the first thing I stopped doing was writing. If someone asked me how my writing was going, I’d clam up and fob them off with excuses. It was uncomfortable and I quickly changed the subject. Eventually, people stopped asking.
What could I say to them? I couldn’t focus to write? I hated myself too much to write? I was too empty to write? Nobody wanted to hear that.
When we feel crappy, the first things that get neglected tend to be the things we love. It’s part of why we get snippy at partners, friends, or family members. It’s called projection and is a common (but unhealthy) psychological tool. It’s when you can’t take your anger out at one thing—say, yourself—so you take it out on someone else, like your partner.
But writing can be a really great form of therapy, or a distraction when you feel low.
Writing got me through the grief of losing my nan last year, and it’s helped me through many fibromyalgia flare ups, too. Without writing and Stardew Valley, I’m not sure what I would’ve done to keep going.
The solution to this is both really simple and really complicated: fight how you feel. Challenge your negative emotions.
You can even use projection to your advantage: instead of projecting onto your loved ones, project onto your characters. You’re allowed to be mean to them—they don’t exist! And, the meaner you are to them, the stronger your story will be and the more your readers will root for them.
You have to fight your negative emotions with everything you have so that you don’t lose the activities and people you love. These are key to pulling you out of the doldrums.
And I promise you, there is a way out. I’ve been there for longer than I care to admit and wouldn’t wish it on anyone, let alone you, but if you’re willing to fight, you can do it.
Building back your confidence
Wherever you are in your writing confidence journey, there are always things you can do to feel happier in your writerly skin, and to build your resilience. It’s a lifelong journey with ups and downs, just like everything else. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you have a down day, week, or month—it’s natural!
When you feel like that, what you really need to work out is why you’re feeling that way. What triggered it? How can you stop it from happening next time?
These are questions I ask in my new Creative Confidence Class. It’ll teach you to build your resilience, focus, and confidence in your writing. You may even find it has a ripple effect on other areas of your life, too!
Ready to get started? Take my Creative Confidence Class. You got this.