To struggle with confidence is to be existent. Nobody—whether schooled or uneducated, old or young, famous or infamous, sheltered or worldly—is immune to occasional insecurities when held up to the light of scrutiny.
For writers, the struggle is all too real, for our ideas dwell in the artistic and not in the scientific. On one end of the spectrum, we’re drawn by an inner aspiration to be innovative and original—the only one of our kind. Then, of course, we remember the demands of our readers, and alas our trade becomes a balancing act of catering to our audience and staying true to our artistic whims. Then, as if our load isn’t heavy enough on its own, we must then brave the unknowns of the editorial and publication processes.
Within the creative process, we’ll never deal with 2+2=4. As writers, we must learn to trust ourselves and rely on others; it is from this place alone that we’ll become truly confident.
Realize you don’t know it all, and that’s OK
Because our writings rely heavily on a great deal of perception, subjectivity, and even vulnerability, the thought of making a mistake can be a fear-filled one. In effect, it can become all too easy for writers to develop resistance to the notion that we can be wrong. Ironically, we develop a stifling pride to combat a deeper level of uncertainty.
To develop true confidence as a writer, the first step is to acknowledge that literary, editorial, and professional errors do not—do not—define you. A truly confident writer is not someone who argues back and forth with their editor or publisher; a truly confident writer does not shatter at an unfavorable book review or a professional blunder; a truly confident writer knows that there is much he or she has yet to learn.
Chase after knowledge
The flip side to accepting your creative and professional downfalls is chasing the answers you currently lack. The term “chase” is key here. As new discoveries are etched into history, and as each new rule evolves into standard, so too must the writer continually undergo professional and personal metamorphosis.
The best way to conquer fear is to block all its entryways to your life. Research, my fellow writers—I cannot stress it enough. Take advantage of social media by following/friending the world’s top authors, literary agents, publishers, grammarians, and poets. Invest in books to hone your craft. Attend webinars. Keep track of major publications. And lastly, remember to remember the changing tides of the English language; rules are constantly being reworked or scrapped altogether.
Receive, withstand, and pursue critical feedback
This one’s always been a toughy for me—not because I can’t receive critical feedback, but because I struggle with what I consider unqualified critical feedback. Yes, it sounds quite snooty…and honestly, it is.
Actually, the phrase unqualified feedback is pretty oxymoronic. Feedback is feedback, and the writer should always be poised to consider what his or her reader is suggesting. And, if the suggestion is absurd (because sometimes it may be), rest assured that you’re still learning a valuable lesson in the art of authorship: how to appropriately consider, discern, and respond.
Fear not the dreaded red ink pen (nor the Microsoft Word markup feature), and if you come across a particular markup that you just absolutely, positively disagree with, consider the following the self-talk:
Could I be wrong in defending my original idea?
Why exactly do I disagree with this markup?
Do I fully understand the markup?
What kinds of emotions are erupting as I look at this markup, and why are they occurring?
After sorting through your reactions, you may then proceed to effectively respond. If there’s a slight chance you may be wrong, there’s a quick fix: research. And, in the case that you’re entirely wrong in the discrepancy, let yourself be comforted in knowing you have someone to provide an outsider’s perspective. Even if the participant offers faulty criticism, at least the act is enticing you to consider your piece on a deeper level of literary thought.
Far too many creative minds are accompanied by anxious thoughts and second-guessing. As a result, some people are miserable with their craft, while others stunt their growth by walling themselves off from criticism. To live in a place of true confidence—which, in turn, springboards us into success—we must first accept our weakness and deal with them head-on by the help of resources and helpful critics.