Saturday, 30 July 2011

Confidence in Fiction Writing

There will come a point when every writer’s confidence slips, or they hit a barrier (usually physiological) and in turn, it affects their writing and they find themselves trapped by self-doubt. 

Usually this is a short lived blip and writers pick themselves up and get back to writing, but on a more serious note, some writers cannot return to writing at all because their confidence has been shattered.

So what makes a writer lose confidence?

  • Negative feedback on a writing piece
  • Rejection
  • Family and friends
  • Ourselves
Firstly, you may have given your work to a peer, teacher, or fellow writer for feedback on your manuscript or story, but sometimes the comments are not very constructive.

Critiques, for instance, are designed to find flaws with your writing and help you improve to become a better writer. Good critiques should be constructive and helpful, however when they are overly negative without the support to correct the errors in your writing, this can severely knock your confidence.

Negative feedback instantly equates in the writer’s mind that the writing is rubbish.

If feedback or critique is what you want, give the story to several people to read rather than just one, because this means you’ll receive positive as well as negative feedback and therefore it’s balanced. That way you can see that your writing is essentially on the right track, it’s good; it just needs a bit of tweaking.

The most common cause of any writer’s lack of confidence with his or her own skills and talent is the rejection. Nothing kills confidence faster. 

You’ve spent months or even years working on your masterpiece only for it to be rejected out of hand. It feels like a punch in the guts and almost immediately, a writer will think they’re rubbish. 

In reality, rejection means that the story is not quite ready, or it’s wrong for the market, not what the editor is looking for, or isn’t quite strong enough etc. Leave the story for a while and then go back to it and work on it a little more – take on board any feedback from rejection and make the story even better.

What about family and friends? They don’t always help. They may not understand why you prefer the company of your computer, or how important writing is to you. You might receive negative comments from friends who put you down because of what you do, or they read your work and don’t provide constructive feedback.

The thing to remember here is that they are not the expert. You are. Go back to the story and make it stronger and better.

Of course, the worst offender when it comes to losing confidence is ourselves. 

A writer can spend months writing and editing and polishing, they’re ready to send to agents …then suddenly they think actually, it’s not that good…it may need tweaking…what if it’s complete rubbish? I’m a mediocre writer. I’m not as good as Stephen King or Lee Child or Dean Koontz (or whoever your favourite writer may be)…

The self doubting spiral is the most destructive. We often question our skills and ability as writers, because often we tend to compare our own writing with other writers who we think are good and that just makes us feel inadequate.

The feeling of being not good enough is when confidence is at its lowest point, we stop cultivating our self belief and this can easily turn into writer’s block.

Remember that with writer’s block, the problem is not the story, but rather the writer.

You have to constantly remind yourself that have the raw talent; otherwise you wouldn’t have started writing in the first place. Everyone starts at the beginning and writing is a constant learning curve.

You can turn self-doubt into a positive aspect, rather than let it stifle your creativity and thought processes. There are ways to get out of the vicious circle of self doubt and lack of confidence in your writing:

  • Revisit old stories or unpublished work and see if you can improve them.
  • Join a writer’s group – positive feedback is a great way to spark ideas and get you writing again.
  • Spend time away from your writing projects and do other things. You don’t have to feel guilty doing that because when you return to your project you’ll have renewed enthusiasm to write.
  • Write regularly – try poetry, short stories, flash fiction, articles. Writing regularly encourages growth in the craft and helps a writer improve.
  • Practice, practice, practice.
 
Keeping confidence while writing is all down to how to apply yourself. Take on board constructive criticism, ignore the negativity, turn it around to your advantage and let it spur you to work harder at creating a great piece.
 
The more you write, the better you become and the better you become, the more confident you’ll be with everything you produce. The more confident you are, the less likely you are to slip into self doubt.
 
No writer is born with the mastery of the craft. It takes years of learning and understanding it, and, as the cliché says, practice does make perfect.
 
Above all, be proud of your work.
 
Next week: How to tease your reader.
 

17 comments:

  1. Wonderful article.Taking on board constructive criticism is essential and it takes time to find the right individuals who have mastered that art. So many say 'too much' and pour their personal, and many times unprofessional, feelings into their critique.
    Thanks for this post!

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  2. Thanks Royce, you're quite right, some critiques are not always helpful.

    Glad you enjoyed the article.

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  3. But when do you give up? If something's been rejected that you've laboured on for months if not years (like a novel), when do you call it a day?

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  4. Interesting question. The answer is simple. If you want something badly enough, you never give up. Imagine if Stephen King gave up after his umpteenth rejection. It spurred him on. Many writers, including myself, have been through this very scenario. But we carry on. Success only comes to those who work at it.

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  5. SK did throw away his first published novel though. It was only after his wife dragged it out of the bin and made him finish it that Carrie saw the light of day. He was convinced it was rubbish and he couldn't write novels.

    I'd say the biggest hurdle is ourselves. I take any qualified criticism as a bonus and rejections are just paving stones laying us a path to success.But it's my own self doubt that knocks me, even if others tell me the piece is good.

    I agree completely about keeping old stories. When in doubt take out an old piece of work and see how you've developed. That alone is enough to boost your confidence at times.

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  6. So you haven't written off your first novel?

    By starting the next, I wonder if you feel guilty about leaving those old characters behind.

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  7. Fantastic post. I'd like to say that if you are getting the same bad reviews or crits about the same thing then maybe it's time to take another hard look at your novel.

    Other than that, you can't please everyone!

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  8. I love this. I have always loved to write. Ever since I was a small child I would write words for hours and hours with no real purpose or direction. I've never had anyone look at my work before and I think it might have been because I didn't have the confidence, nor was I even aware that I had any sort of raw talent as you call it.

    I certainly agree I never thought I had talent because I compared my writing to the greats. Just now I am taking on the scary task of putting myself and my writing out there to receive the criticism that stifled me before. We shall see!

    If you are interested in checking it out, I just started my own creative writing experiment, if you will, writing my way through a book dedicated to getting people writing. I welcome the criticism now!

    http://smr2189.wordpress.com/

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  9. @ Anonymous

    No, first novel is with agents and no I have no guilt with moving on to new characters. A writer has to, there is no time for guilt or mourning; succeeding projects need a writer's complete focus and attention.

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  10. Totally agree with you Tony. Writers can be their own worst enemy at times. I never chuck anything either. Quite often left over material is great for flash fiction pieces.

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  11. Hi Sarah, I read some of the arguments about writing on your blog, who can and can't write etc, and I believe it's a case of having the raw talent to begin with, then nurturing it. As I said in the article, learning never stops, one is always developing as a writer. And the best way to help yourself improve is to get your work out there so you know what you're doing right, and more importantly, what you are doing wrong. Best way to learn.

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  12. Very uplifting post, thanks! I could always do with an upper:)

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  13. "No, first novel is with agents and no I have no guilt with moving on to new characters. A writer has to, there is no time for guilt or mourning; succeeding projects need a writer's complete focus and attention"

    Is that how it works? an agent will find a publisher? How did you get an agent? I know - jumping ahead of the advice sorry.

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  14. Came over from Shannon Lawrence's The Warrior Muse. It's always me--I'm not gonna put the blame anywhere else. You make some great suggestions.


    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  15. Excellent post. I had added a link to my sidebar for it. :O)

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  16. Anonymous said...
    Is that how it works? an agent will find a publisher? How did you get an agent? I know - jumping ahead of the advice sorry.

    An agent will take the time to find the right publisher for your novel - of course, you don't have to have an agent - but they do know their stuff, their know the market, they have insider knowledge of the publishing industry and they can get a foot in the door.

    The agent has to like the work to think it might make the grade so it's worth remembering that getting an agent is one thing, but them getting you a publishing deal is another. Sometimes it takes a while.

    I sent out my novel to as many 'targeted' agents as possible using the Artists & Writers Yearbook which has listings of agents and publishers in the UK and the US. It's not an instant process - months and months of rejections, so you have to keep at it.

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  17. Thanks Arlee and Madeleine, and Mark, glad you've found the info useful/insightful.

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