The concept of confidence, in writing and in the wider world, has occupied my thoughts lately.
At work, the idea of a confidence gap between genders has resurfaced, along with a lot of hand-wringing about how to bridge the gap and encourage more women into leadership roles. Mentorship programs have been set up in my workplace in an attempt to address the problem.
Indeed, the issue seems to extend to the writing world as well. Charlotte Wood commented on the different ways that male and female authors respond to the opinions of others in a recent podcast by The Garret. ‘The men I spoke to often seemed blissfully unconcerned about other people’s opinions of them or their work,’ Charlotte said. This, in general, did not apply to the women.
The other situation in which confidence has come up is in reference to writing craft. In the advice to write confidently. This, it seems, is quite different to having self-confidence as a writer, although the two are probably intertwined. It’s hard to imagine having one without the other.
What is confident writing?
The definition of confident writing is vague and varies depending on who you ask. In general, confident writing lets the reader know they’re in good hands from the first line. It consists of simple, direct language which should appear effortless, or just right. The words should flow like natural speech, avoiding overly formal or stiff language.
In terms of the overall work, it should have a strong opening, a consistent voice and direction. In other words, confident writing equates to good craft.
Do you need self-confidence to produce confident writing?
Many writers struggle with self-confidence, for good reason. As soon as you build up the courage to put your work ‘out there’ you expose yourself to criticism and rejection. I would argue, however, that finding inner strength and self-belief makes it easier to produce strong, confident prose.
You need to write with passion, with a smidge of certainty that your subject matters. You need to steel yourself to take risks and challenge yourself, which takes confidence. And you need to be willing to be yourself, to show the world your unique voice.
What stands in the way of developing self-confidence?
Societal expectations are partially to blame for many women’s low self-esteem. As a result, while achieving better than men academically, women often underestimate their own ability.
On an individual level, personality traits which impede development of self-confidence include perfectionism, risk aversion, fear of failure and overthinking. I may have just described the personality of every writer I have met.
Fake it til you make it
So how then do we go about manufacturing some self-confidence in the face of rejections? And will this self-esteem translate into confident writing?
The overriding message is that confidence is a habit. No amount of experience, and no magic number of publishing credits or prizes will bestow confidence upon you. In other words, fake it until you don’t need to anymore.
The key to self-confidence is in the first part of the word: self. Approval or recognition from others will not produce it. It needs to be found within.
For a start, be honest with yourself about your abilities, don’t undervalue them, and remember that perfection is overrated.
What are your thoughts on writing with confidence?
Great article. It made me think of my first foray into writing, where I was so confident, I thought I’d written the best thing ever (not an uncommon experience, apparently).
Then the penny dropped, and after learning more about the craft, I realised that what I had written was practically rubbish.
However, I think that initial rush of confidence is vital. It gives a writer a chance to fall in love with the process, so that when they realise they have a hell of a lot of work to do on that ‘perfect piece’, they have an inkling of the intrinsic rewards writing can offer.
Then, there’s the process of building that confidence all over again – much tricker with your eyes open!
Great point, Marie. That early false confidence is fuel for the new writer. Writing fiction is such a huge learning curve, and your confidence is knocked down so many times. It takes persistence to build it up again.