All craft has its difficulties; writing is no different. We pour ourselves into the words we put on paper and hope we’ve given voice to our ideas. And then, for some of us, comes the next stage: showing it to other people.
And that’s a terrifying thing that only gets easier over time. Or so it should, which is precisely when confidence comes into play.
Confidence: when do you need it?
The answer is simple: if you aren’t writing only for yourself, then all the time.
If your story will forever remain only between you and your document, you’re probably at the height of your confidence. You wanted to write something, and so you did. In this case, you are both the creator and the audience, and as such, you have satisfied yourself fully. Congratulations. You have created something out of nothing; doesn’t it feel great?
But if your intended audience is bigger than just you, then writing itself is only the first step. As much as daunting the idea of taking those remaining steps may be, it is something you must do.
Unfortunately, there is no wondrous recipe that works for everyone. There is also the matter of cultural aspect (hi there, patriarchy; hi there, forced heteronormativity) which is a whole other topic that requires thousands of words—and it’s something I won’t be covering in this post. This is about you as a writer who may eventually need to work on your courage and confidence (if it’s something you struggle with, of course. But I imagine you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise.).
From 0 to small amounts
Start simple: are you comfortable showing your work to your friends and/or family, whichever are closer to you? This step is usually* the easiest.
(*I say usually, because I know a person who wanted to become a published author, but didn’t even want to show the first draft of their book to their significant other. If that was already a problem, how did they expect to cope with strangers reading it? We’re not in touch anymore, but they never got published, so I assume that answers my question.)
So yeah, start with baby steps. Find someone supportive of your endeavours, because having a person who cheers on you—or even reminds you you’re not wasting your time by pursuing something you think worthwhile is incredibly important. It can even be a stranger in your writing community if you join or form one. The most important thing is to never hear “you shouldn’t bother, you’re not good enough” even before you had time to improve, because that shit stays with you, and it takes years to overcome it.
(Trust me on that one, I know it from personal experience.)
Acknowledge that there will be setbacks. You will have to put a lot of work into your writing—as everyone does with everything they do, be it a job, sport discipline of their choice, or art/craft of any kind. Experience is crucial to building your confidence. It’s a constant cycle of development fuelled by writing, editing, reading, more writing, more editing, more reading, and so on, and so forth.
That, however, may bring a desire to compare yourself to others, which is actually the bane of our existence.
From small amounts to your comfort levels
In chapter 2 of their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Dr Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski cite a study saying that the awareness of being compared to other people is likely to negatively impact your creativity. Now how much greater that impact may be if the person doing the comparing is you?
There are stories that make me want to put down my pen and/or close the computer and never write again, because how can I possibly come close to the sheer perfection of that prose? Comparison is the starting point of a vicious and fast trip down the lane that will most likely damage your confidence. And this, I believe, is where the earlier stage of building it up comes into play. It’s easy to irrevocably destroy something budding and barely there, but when your foundations are solid and you know you still have a story you want to tell, the blow your confidence might take is significantly smaller.
Envy is real. I daresay that at some point we all felt it with regard to another person’s writing style and/or storytelling skills. We’re only humans, after all, and no one is above weakness. I can’t tell you how to overcome this—not when I struggle with it myself—but I may gently nudge you towards that one project you’ve always put off in favour of writing something else, or an idea that always seemed to wild to indulge in. The point is to have fun with your writing and remember that at the bottom of it all lies your desire to tell a story. There will always be other people telling their stories, but there’s only one yours. And only you can tell it.
The importance of having an audience
Unless you’re writing stories you plan to never show to anyone, you will, eventually, have readers. And this can go two ways: fandom writing is usually much more direct with the reception (kudos, comments, etc.; you know the drill), while original writing is much quieter in comparison. Regardless of what you’re writing, you will encounter both positive and negative feedback. The former will make you soar, the latter will be what sends you plummeting to the ground.
Both are something you have to learn how to accept. This, too, can happen only through experience. There are tons of advice on how to deal with unsolicited critique or anonymous hate, but only experience will show you which of those work for you and which don’t. Will it have an impact on your confidence? Of course. If you bear the brunt of negativity too early, it may just as well shatter your budding sense of self-worth as a writer. Time gives you mental tools to properly process the impact, though. Which brings me to the last point.
Let yourself grow at your own pace
No one develops their skills and mental strength at the same pace. Some writers take the dive at the very beginning and are fine with it. Others need years of slow grind forward, hindered by two steps back at every corner. Then there are all the shades in between—and they are all good. Everyone’s strategy is different, just like all writers are different. What works for others doesn’t necessarily have to work for you too.
Confidence is a skill you have to develop like any other. It doesn’t magically appear overnight, especially when you’re sharing the fruit of your labour with the world. Don’t despair if you feel you’re taking longer than others, though, or if your journey seems more difficult. You are building yourself as a writer from nothing, which is a gargantuan task.
That you’ve undertaken it is already a tremendous achievement you should be proud of. This, perhaps, is the part that required the largest amount of confidence.