Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Confidence and The Writer

Confidence and The Writer

By Jana Richards

Putting the words “writer” and “confidence” together in the same sentence seems like an oxymoron to me. I struggle with issues of confidence in my writing (in other areas of my life too, but let’s not go there). Although I’ve finished and sold four full-length novels and my novella “Burning Love” is being released today by The Wild Rose Press (, I always wonder if I can finish another novel. If I do finish it, will it be any good? Will anyone want to read it, or buy it? Or am I just kidding myself about this writing thing?

A writer can drive herself insane with all the negative thinking. It certainly doesn’t help the writing. I can wallow in self-pity or I can try to find ways to work on my issues. So here I go.

Confidence Issue #1 – Rejection. What writer hasn’t faced rejection from an editor or an agent? Or maybe you received a harsh critique, or a less than stellar review. Rejection can cripple a writer if she lets it have that power. I know because it happened to me and I almost quit writing at one point. Knowing I wasn’t the only writer who was ever rejected gave me the confidence to keep on keeping on. Laurie Pawkik-Kienlen says to improve confidence a writer should read other writers memoirs and biographies. You will be truly amazed by the number of famous writers who were rejected numerous times before someone finally recognized their talent. If rejection could happen to Stephen King, I must be in good company! Check out this site for some famous writers’ rejection stories.

Confidence Issue #2 – Sure, I finished writing a novel once, but can I do it again? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only writer who questions their ability to do it again. There are a few things to try here. If a full-length novel seems too daunting, or you’ve started and then abandoned more than one novel, start and finish a smaller project. Dan Goodwin writes in “Five Powerful Ways to Kick Start Your Confidence as a Creative Writer” that tackling a project you can finish in a couple of hours (like a short story or a blog) will boost your confidence. Nothing drains a writer’s confidence more than beginning an ambitious project that she is unable to finish.

Another way to boost your confidence and to remind yourself that you can finish a project is to keep a list of your accomplishments. This list would record every novel, every short story and every blog post you’ve ever completed. Or perhaps you would like to keep your finished novels lined up near your computer where you can see them every day, just to remind yourself you are a writer who can finish what she starts. Writer Sarah Hilary celebrates her successes, and uses the confidence that small successes give her to aim at bigger markets and bigger projects.

Alan Rinzler recommends reading a good book by an author you admire. It’s like holding up a beacon of hope that says “Yes, this can be done!”

Confidence Issue #3 – But is it any good? It takes me forever to finish a book, not because I’m so horribly slow, but because often, I don’t trust my own vision for the book. I go back endlessly and revise, changing plot and characters. Sometimes revision is necessary (okay, my work often needs revisions). But on occasion I’ve let an unfavorable critique totally derail a story, spinning it in directions I never wanted it to go. How do I develop the confidence to trust my own vision?

Writing something every day helps. Dana Mitchells says “Writing something every day, no matter how little, will help you overcome these fears [fears of rejection, perfectionism, and poor writing]. It will cause your confidence to escalate, because each day that you actually write something is a day when you have faced your fears.”

Another thing I’m doing to combat this issue to continue learning the writing craft. I’ve taken several on-line classes dealing with plot, characters, sexual tension and many other areas of writing. Currently, I’m reading Donald Maass’ ( book “Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook”. I’m working through the exercises and studying other writers’ work so that I can learn to plot and characterize my own novels with confidence.

Do you have confidence issues? Do you find that lack of confidence is affecting your writing? What have you done to try to boost your confidence?

Jana Richards’ novella “Burning Love” will be released today at The Wild Rose Press ( . Jana would love to hear from you. You can reach her through her website at or join her at where she blogs every other Monday.


Anonymous said...

Good Morning Jana. Congratulations on your release! As a multi-published author myself, I still find confidence an issue. You nailed everything right on the head and offered some very good advice. :) It's good to know I'm not alone. Thanks for sharing.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Kim,
Thanks for having me here.

I think we writers are a strange, neurotic breed. No matter how much we've written or how well it's been received, we still wonder if we're "good enough". And yes, it is helpful to know I'm not the only writer who feels that way.


Joyce Henderson said...

"Confidence and the Writer" There's an oxymoron if I ever read one. Confidence suggests sanity. I know a corral-full of writers and every single one verges on insanity, ready to jump off a cliff any moment. LOL

Having said that, what I do to bolster my confidence when the negative creeps in is, con someone into thinking I'm super confident and believe in what I'm doing by helping that someone with a daunting situation or question.

I received an email from an unpublished friend this morning that she has an interested NYC editor who wants to see her whole manuscript. I've been telling this friend for months that she's a super writer. I've critiqued her work and encouraged her to send it out, and now my suggestions are bearing fruit.

By helping another person, having my suggestions acted upon and an editor saying, I want to see the whole manuscript, and with glowing remarks about the partial, that validates me! I really do know what I'm doing!

At least that's what I tell myself as I craw back into my cave and do rewriters on my WIP.

I, too, face that blank page and think, holy mackerel, can I do it again? Can I write another story that an editor will like and publish? There's only one way to overcome that sort of barrier...plop you butt in the chair and write. Writing begets writing, begets a page, begets a chapter, begets an entire book.

Hey, if you've written an entire book you've done more than a gazillion other writers who say, I'm going to write a book someday. Celebrate yourself.

Emma Lai said...

Very accurate, Jana!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Joyce,
Truly words of wisdom. Nothing beats the "I can't do it again!" blues more than plopping your butt in a chair and letting your creativity flow. Getting words on paper really helps to overcome issues of confidence.

I also argee with you about getting some outside affirmation. My writing friends told me for years that my writing was good, but I didn't really believe it until an editor told me so. Having an industry professional ready to take a chance on me gave me a boost to my confidence that has helped me write more, and I hope, write better.

Thanks for stopping by.

Jana Richards said...

Thanks for stopping by Emma!

Another thing that helps boost confidence and keeps a writer going is support from fellow writers. I appreciate friends in my writing groups that I get to see live and in person and the friends I've made online.


Sandra Sookoo said...

Congrats on the book release!

I struggle with confidence all the time. Deep down, I know I'm a good writer and that every day that goes by, my writing gets stronger.

However, I died a thousand deaths with a recent scathing review over a book of mine. I didn't think I'd get back on the tracks.

But I did. I moved on, striving to do better.

That's what makes the difference between a hobbyist and a "lifer".

Happy writing and many sales!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Sandra,
I'm so sorry about the crappy review. Just remember it's only one person's opinion, and what do they know anyway!

I think I'm a strange combination of confidence and insecurities. If I didn't have some confidence in my work I would never be able to send it out. But like you, there is something deep inside that says not everything I write is dreck. I also have a deep, burning desire to be published.

Thanks for the good wishes, Sandra. I wish the same for you.


Karyn Good said...

Hi, Jana. Great post and great tips for overcoming self-doubts and taking charge and moving forward. Very inspirational!

Looking forward to reading Burning Love!

Jana Richards said...

Thanks so much Karen. It's support from friends like you that keeps my confidence and spirits up.


Phyllis Campbell said...

Great blog! I think all writers go through this. Shoot, I've published 23 stories since 2004 and I still get discouraged. I know I can write a story (and finish it), but lack of confidence comes when I try to find an agent or get with the big publishers. Yet I keep trying. I MUST keep moving.


Jana Richards said...

First of all Phyllis, congratulations on all the success you've had. 23 published stories since 2004 is incredible! Give yourself a pat on the back, girlfriend!

But I know what you mean. I've had some modest success with epublishing, and I'd like to move up to the next level. But trying to bust down the door to major publishers feels really tough and the rejections get to you after a while. I haven't yet looked seriously for an agent, but I know from friends who have that seeking an agent is sort of like looking for the Holy Grail! Only harder!

Good luck in your quest,

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Jana,
Very informative blog and great advice.

Debra St. John said...

The thing that comes up most on my lack of confidence list is the "Can I really write another one of these?" and "Is it any good?"

For a good confidence boost, I like to revisit good reviews I've gotten. Getting something down on "paper" on a regular basis is good for the old self-esteem as well.

Janet said...

Hey, Jana - great post and really great links, thanks. You already know that I, too, suffer from a lack of confidence. Can I do this? Can I take another rejection? It really can be taxing, not to mention bad for the hair as I pull it out in frustration some days. But I think you said it best - friends get us through, they push us to be better, they cry with us, and they celebrate with us.

Today, I'm celebrating with you. Burning Love is a fabulous book and I'm so very proud of you for working through some tough revisions and believing in yourself. Way to go :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Margaret,
I hope you find some of the advice and the links useful. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

All the best,

Jana Richards said...

Hi Debra,
Good advice! Anytime you get written praise in a review or in a critique, or if you're so lucky as to receive a fan letter, hang on to it! There will come a day when reading that affirmation will make you feel so much better!

Thanks Debra,

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
You are such a talented writer! I hope you know that. If anyone wants to get a taste of Janet's quirky sense of humor and awesome writing skills, just come by the Prairie Chicks Write Romance Blog every other Friday. Janet posted this short story The Last Wish as her contribution for our Christmas writing. I think it's a wonderful piece. Your day will come.


Janet said...

Jana - you're a sweetheart. Thanks :)

Jana Richards said...

Right back at ya, Janet!


Phyllis Campbell said...

Jana, LOL on the Holy Grail comment...and you have hit the nail on the head. It is that hard! What's upsetting is getting those rejections - BUT having the agent say they like my voice. It's upsetting because I know how close I am...but still too far away. (groans) I really enjoy keeping in touch with my other author friends because we help lift each other up when we're down - which is quite a bit lately.


Jana Richards said...

Hang in there Phyllis! I wish you the best of luck.


Zequeatta Jaques said...

Great post, Jana. Confidence, a constant fight with us writers. Seems though that most of us take a deep breath and try again.

Ilona Fridl said...

Hi, Jana! I know I'm a little late coming on here, but I know what you mean about confidence. I have one book out and another in galleys, but I sometimes wonder if it isn't just blind luck instead of talent. I stare at the screen at my WIP and feel stupid, but I shake it off and keep going. My worst critic is in my head.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Ilona,
Yes, we are our own worst critics. Nobody could be harder on me than I am on myself. I think overcoming confidence issues involves some self-love and a little self-kindness. We have to stop beating ourselves up. I know it's tough to do; I have a very hard time with it. But I'm sure our writing would be better off if we cut ourselves a little slack once in a while instead of telling ourselves that everything we write sucks, and we'll never write anything decent again.

Best of luck as you face that screen, Ilona.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Zaqueatta,
I don't know what it is about us writers. Is it because our work is so dependent on what other people, like readers, agents, editors, think of it? One bad critique or review can send a writer into a downward spiral and totally undermine her confidence.

I think for a writer to succeed in this tough business, or at least hang in there, she has to develop a thick skin and ways of coping with confidence issues.

One coping skill we haven't talked about here yet is goal setting. I talked about looking back at my goals for 2009 and making new ones for 2010 on my blog at Prairie Chicks Write Romance. When I looked back and saw all the things I accomplished I felt pretty good. There were many goals that I didn't completely accomplish but writing them down provides incentive to go after them.


MarthaE said...

Congrats and best wishes on your release! I am not a writer but these sound like three great points you have made! Well done!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Martha,
Thanks very much! I appreciate the good wishes.


darkangelauthor said...

You've really hit the nail on the head, Jana. I struggle constantly with confidence...or more accurately, the lack thereof. *sigh* My big issue is the ability to live up to expectations. I've just sent a manuscript for a really intense, dark paranormal to my's supposed to be the first in a series and now I'm petrified I won't be able to deliver on the implied promise I've made. Ack!

It helps to remind myself that I've been in this state of mind before (when I started the first manuscript, for instance!) and that it will pass. Basic breathing (vs. hyperventilating) is also useful...

Excellent post, and congratulations on your release!


Penny Rader said...

Thanks for the tips and links, Jana. This seems to be a constant struggle for me.

Jana Richards said...

You're welcome Penny. Just know you're not the only writer who struggles with confidence issues.

All the best,

Jana Richards said...

Hi Linda (Dark Angel),
First of all congratulations on finishing what sounds like a "big" book! That and already having an agent :) You're doing great!

That feeling that you may not be able to do it again is difficult, I know. It may sound a little trite, but I think you can battle that confidence issue by with positive thoughts. When you find yourself thinking that you'll never come up with another idea as good as this, stop, take deep breaths, and tell yourself that you've done this before and you can do it again, even better this time. I believe we can do what we tell ourselves we can do.

All the best to you and good luck with that series!