with guest Cheryl St. John.
Along their writing journeys it’s not uncommon for writers to struggle with confidence. We all wonder if we have the stuff it takes. As beginners we wonder if we have an inkling of talent. Once our talent is validated by other writers and readers, we still wonder if it’s good enough, if we have what it takes. It’s good to acknowledge that we don’t know it all and to have a desire to learn and grow, but doubt can hold us back. We shoot ourselves in the foot by creating and feeding feelings of inadequacy. One of the things we can do to build confidence is to recognize and overcome self-defeating behaviors, like negative self-talk. Negative thinking can be detrimental to our performance, make us doubt ourselves and inhibit our creativity. Don’t ever demean an accomplishment by saying or thinking, “I was just lucky" or "Anyone could have done it."
Confidence is often built by setting and achieving goals, so it’s pretty important how we choose to set goals and measure them. Short term and long terms goals should be realistic and achievable. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting a goal like, “I will be published by this time next year.” Unless you’re independently publishing, a goal like that is out of your control, and the result will leave you feeling helpless or like a failure. Set goals with smaller measurable steps. A long term goal might be to produce a polished product for submission with the next ten months. Then set short term goals to make it happen: Two new pages a day or two hours of writing a day for example. Take an online class or find a critique partner.
"Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt." – William Shakespeare
Most of us were raised in a competitive and comparative environment, where our achievements were profiled and graphed into percentiles, where we were matched against our peers as a gauge to see how we were doing. It’s no wonder so many of us have self-esteem issues and doubts about our abilities. Thank goodness teachers, counselors and parents have learned to work in teams to choose learning methods suitable for children of all capabilities. Now students are treated as individuals and encouraged to learn at their own speed and in the manner best suited for them. Comparing ourselves to others can lead to frustration and inferiority. Someone always appears to be doing better than we are, selling more books, getting more awards, earning more money. Admire them, congratulate them, but focus on your own achievements.
Sometimes we make mistakes. Occasionally a project crashes and burns. Sometimes we have to do something wrong before we figure out how to do it right. And that’s okay—as long as we’re moving forward.
Be willing to make mistakes. I’ve known writers who never got started because they’re always planning, plotting and talking about the book instead of putting words on pages. There are writing students who read every book on the craft and attend hundreds of workshops and conferences and ask questions and take notes and plan, plan, plan. A lot of people want to be writers. Fewer people actually put words on paper.
Being unprepared can leave us feeling inadequate, so reading, attending workshops and staying informed on the craft of writing and the market is another way to help us feel prepared, but a writer moves beyond study to doing.
It’s good to be teachable and eager to learn, but until there are words on paper, it’s impossible to truly learn the craft. The people who don’t get that far want everything to be perfect before it gets on the page—or they want it to come out perfect on the first try, so they wait until they’re good enough. But guess what? It ain‘t gonna happen. Learn from your mistakes. This might sound simple, but if one method didn’t work, try a different one. You can’t expect a different result from the same behavior.
We must be willing to write badly in order to learn to write well. I have a question I ask myself about everything I consider. When I had the inspiration and inclination to write a non-fiction book on writing, I asked the question: “What’s the worst that could happen?”
· My agent could hate the idea. She loved it.
· I could learn midway through that I didn’t know what I was talking about. I learned just the opposite.
· I could get an impersonal rejection stamped NOT FOR US. I didn’t.
Even if our dream publisher hadn’t wanted to become involved with the project, my time would not have been wasted. I would have shown myself I could put together a professional package that reflected years of experience and I would have produced something upon which to improve.
“Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.” - Peter T. Mcintyre
I’ve been a worship leader for quite a few years, and I always say to my team of singers, “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it with confidence, and so one will know you didn’t intend it that way.” I have been known to sing the wrong notes or words, but I sing them with such authority that everyone follows along. Confidence grows with practice and with maturity.
So I have a how-to-write book being released next month. It’s a pretty big deal. It was a lofty goal to write an instructional book, but I’d been leading workshops and teaching online classes for years, and I had a lot of encouragement from other writers, which built my confidence in my ability. Writing this type of book was something I’d thought about for a long time. It was as big of a step as writing or submitting my first book. My long term goal was to submit it for publication. My short term goals involved gathering my notes and thoughts, preparing the proposal and getting feedback.
The editor of Writing With Emotion, Tension & Conflict, Rachel Randall, told me I should be proud of this project. And I am because I had the courage to follow through and the confidence to believe in its worth. In this business we don’t always receive recognition for intrinsic value. We should all believe that our value lies inside of us, not in our performance or the size of our royalty checks. Some things can’t be measured. What makes one book better than the next or one writer better than another? Only perspective. Only the reader, when you get right down to it.
No one can tell you whether or not you’re going to sell a book, publish fifty more or have financial success. There are no guarantees when we start writing, and that lack of assurance can be frustrating. That’s why it’s imperative to grow our confidence in ourselves.
Submitting a book can test our vulnerabilities. A manuscript will be compared to all the others that cross an editor’s desk. It will be scrutinized for its ability to make the publishing house money in the marketplace—bottom line in this business. The only way we can have the confidence to know we’re submitting something with a chance of making it past that test is to learn our craft and practice, practice, practice. Work at writing and work at it until we get better, until we hit our personal stride.
Confidence is gained by successfully completing a task and recognizing the accomplishment—repeatedly. By acknowledging a success, your brain processes, "I can do this again." We can’t nurture confidence if we don’t recognize or even appreciate what we’ve done.
Don’t look at a project as too large. Break it down into steps and accomplish them one at a time. If it’s helpful, record your page/time goals and accomplishments in your planner. Check them off as you reach and overtake each one.
Celebrate every achievement along the way. Have a chapter one achievement award party or treat yourself to something special for milestones reached. Give yourself fun stickers or hearts on your daily planner—something visual to note progress.
“Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it." - Lou Holtz
Confidence is conditioned behavior. Many years ago a study was done at the University of Wisconsin. A scientist tied a mouse’s front feet together and placed the animal into the cage of another mouse. The mouse whose cage was being trespassed easily beat up the mouse with its feet tied.
After that happened several times, the scientist put mice without tied feet into the cage. The mouse who’d won repeatedly was so confident by then that it took on and defeated mice even larger than itself. Under ordinary circumstances, that mouse would have run when it saw a larger opponent, but it had been conditioned until it believed it couldn't lose.
Condition yourself. Speak about yourself in positive terms. Set achievable goals and visualize reaching them. Surround yourself with supportive, encouraging people. Embrace mistakes as learning curves. Congratulate yourself every step of the way and celebrate your successes. Acknowledge and appreciate the beauty and talent in you, and be thankful for what you have. A positive attitude is a powerful tool.
Writing with Emotion, Tension and Conflict releases the end of November so it is not available for a giveaway today so, for today, leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for a kindle copy of Cheryl St.John's classic romance Land of Dreams.
Writing With Emotion, Tension, and Conflict:Techniques for Crafting an Expressive and Compelling Novel
Today's highly competitive fiction market requires writers to imbue their novels with that special something - an element that captures readers' hearts and minds. In Writing With Emotion, Tension & Conflict, writers will learn vital techniques for writing emotion into their characters, plots and dialogue in order to instill that special something into every page.
"...essential knowledge and practical exercises which combined, create a tool-kit that no aspiring author can afford to be without. Everything you need to write your novel can be found in these pages."Wow! Where was this book when I started my writing career?
- Kelly L. Stone, author of THINKING WRITE: The Secret to Freeing Your Creative Mind
- Kelly L. Stone, author of THINKING WRITE: The Secret to Freeing Your Creative Mind
"A must-have compilation of rock-sound advice from a writer who knows what she's talking about. A book you'll want to inhale whole and then return to time and time again to improve your craft and go deeper in order to write YOUR story. Not only does this book embrace some of the most complex elements of story construction in a clear, easy to digest format, it acts as inspiration for the writer. Sentence upon sentence of outstanding advice!"
- Mary Buckham, author of the Amazon best-selling WRITING ACTIVE SETTINGS series for writers.