Building Your Confidence as a Writer


You and Confidence

Back in January, Eboni J. Dunbar, managing editor of Fiyah, shared a tweet that resonated with me about confidence and writing.

So many writers believe that selling their stories or books will instantly give them confidence. That the act of someone buying their work leads to this overwhelming sense of confidence. Well, I won’t lie. It does feel nice to sell something or to win big in some way but that feeling doesn’t last.

Nothing lasts. Even amazing and great things like acceptances don’t last.

You may be wondering why. A lot of times that’s because selling a piece to a publication, while amazing and astounding, isn’t the end to the life of the story. After acceptance, there’s still work to be done.

Some of this work has made many writers turn away from acceptance. I’ve had colleagues do this because they don’t want to work on revisions or believe their story is worth more than they are offered. There have even been writers in my life who have turned away from acceptance out of fear of having a story published.

Dunbar has worked in publishing for a while now and has sold stories to top publications in their genre. They are even an editor of an award-winning publication. Yet, they still feel that shake to their confidence. They still know the truth about confidence as a writer and how little acceptances have to do with it.

Depending on where you are in your career, you’ve gotten a rejection, a bad critique, or a bad review. You know the pain and torment that it brings. How quick and easy those feelings of not being good enough creep up.

That will never stop happening no matter how deep into your career you get or how famous you get. Many writers bring up the prevalence of imposter syndrome and writer’s block. No one knows what causes it or if there’s any cure.

I don’t agree with that.

Confidence is the cure.

But not blind confidence that turns into egomania. The type of confidence that is open and accepting of critique and growth. The type of confidence that leads to true change and not stagnation.

That type of confidence is hard to find as a writer, but worth its weight in burritos and pizza. I’ve written a bit about the difference between being confident and being egotistical, but really it comes down to the above statement.

Are you confident enough to use a critique to better your story? Or are you egotistical to the point that any critique or feedback is seen as an insult?

I first made the conscious decision to be a writer in 2015. For me, that meant committing myself to the every day and craft. It meant learning how to make living as a writer work.

What it didn’t mean was preparing myself for the emotional reality of when it did work. Yes, I prepared myself for the work of being a writer: the deadlines, the ideas, the act of writing and revisioning. All of that I learned and worked at, but in all my learning, there was never a bit about how to deal with being one of the few. One of the ones who make it to their writing career and can stand among their heroes and idols, the ones they’ve been reading and learning from for years.


When I met Mary Robinette Kowal, I was interviewing for a job at SFWA. I knew there was going to be a chance that during the interview process I would meet the woman that I had been listening to and reading for years. It wasn’t until her face popped into the Zoom call did my reality sink in.

I wasn’t some wannabe writer or a person who just called themselves a writer. I was a genuine professional writer in the speculative fiction community. Enough so that I landed an interview at the national science fiction and fantasy association.

Kowal wasn’t the only hero I got to meet during that interview. There were three people on that call who I had known only through their work and teachings. Three people who spoke and treated me like a colleague.

The day I got the email that I didn’t get the position, Kowal had responded to one of my Insta stories complimenting me again on my office chair. I want to say the two notifications came in within an hour of each other. Don’t remember which one was first.

What I do remember is that my stomach dropped, and I felt like a fraud. Like I was a thief found stealing time. Those greats could see that I wasn’t good enough.

My confidence was rocked, to say the least.

I started my career building my confidence through working diligently at my craft. My core mentality when it comes to confidence is: if I’m deliberately working at bettering myself and my craft, then I know that I will reach my goals.

That is what I return to rejection after rejection. I return to my work.

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing their talent they would be wise to develop a thick hide.” — Harper Lee


Where to Find Confidence as a Writer

Finding confidence is all about accurately assessing your writing and skills. That may sound super easy, but there’s a catch: You’re what they call an unreliable narrator.

That means what you think your strengths are might not be. I’ve worked with writers who say their biggest writing strength is their vivid descriptions, but they don’t realize they are only telling the audience what things look like. They lack any actual description chops but don’t know it.

Finding your confidence takes risk. It takes stepping out of who you are and accepting you don’t know sh*t about sh*t.

And that’s okay.

It’s better to be a learning fool than an unquestioning master.

The difference being that the unquestioning master thinks they are above critique because they believe that they can’t possibly be wrong. On the other hand, a learning fool sees critique as a way to better themselves. They are not defined by defeat. Instead, they use it to guide their success.

Finding confidence takes understanding writing and story so that you can understand your own stories and writing. It takes study, failure, and the continued commitment to the written word.

Examine your strengths and weaknesses.

You can’t really grow if you don’t know how or where to grow. By knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are, you can learn what you are really good at and what you need to be better at to be a well-rounded writer. You can find this out by sharing your work widely and listening to what people have to say about it outside of praise. Or you can do what I did and read widely so that you have a grasp on storytelling elements and can identify when a craft element is faulty

Read “slush.”

Slush is what the pile of manuscripts sent into a publication is called. Becoming a slush reader is beneficial to your writing because it allows you to see a wide range of stories at different levels and stages of revision.

Reading slush will build your confidence by showing you the best and worse of what is being written currently. You can become a slush reader for a publication or publisher by checking their openings and applying. Most slush readers will have to undergo a test to prove that they have an understanding of storytelling and what the editors and readers are interested in.

Join a critique group.

Working alongside other writers who are all trying to make this writing thing work gives you a community to tap into to spark your confidence. Find and stick with the critique groups that offer constructive critiques and knowledgeable feedback so that you can build your confidence through learning what works and what doesn’t in your own and others’ stories.

Share your work.

Sharing your work early in your career and building up your confidence to hearing and seeing how your story changes and morphs will make future bad reviews and low reader views nothing but a push to do better next time.

Detach from your work.

Detach the right way, of course. When I say to detach from your work, I mean pull your ego and self out of it while still leaving some of your blood and charm on the page. I’ve worked with too many writers who have turned their real-life pain into a fictional story without detaching in a healthy manner. This led them to feel like every critique was a personal insult.

Read like a writer.

Build your confidence, like I did, through learning storytelling, so that you have a grasp on what works, steering your craft with knowledge and insight. Many writers try to do this but end up failing because they read with this frustrated air toward the text that stops them from picking up on the teachings laid within. Whether a work is good or bad, it has something to teach you.

Befriend writers.

No one knows the pain and passion of creation like other artists. Having writers in your life that you can talk to about writing and your career will help to normalize this crazy act you are doing. Of course, stick with people who are friendly and welcoming to other artists. Their fire will be contagious.

Stop talking to non-writers about writing.

Talking with other writers has shown me that more than once in their lives, a non-writer has in some way discouraged or misled them about writing. It’s not their fault. They aren’t writers and can say harmful things without meaning to. Those comments can lead to you second-guessing yourself and your craft.

Accept that you suck.

Like I’ve mentioned before, coming at something with the acceptance and knowledge that you don’t know anything allows you to take in information without letting your ego get in the way. Be confident without being egotistical. The difference is that a confident person is open to experience while an egotistical person isn’t.


Additional Resources

I’ll drop some links here to further your exploration into building and maintaining your confidence as a writer. Just in case you are curious, none of these are affiliate links, nor was I paid for endorsing them.

Podcasts

Books

Articles

Videos


Aigner Loren Wilson is a queer Black SFWA, HWA, and Codex writer. Her work has appeared in Tordotcom, Better Humans, The Writing Cooperative, and more. She strives to help writers reach their publishing goals and attain their dreams. Subscribe for access to masterclass courses in writing, editing, and making a living as a writer.

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