Weekend Edition – How to be a Confident Writer Plus Writing Tips and Good Reads

“Confident Writer” … it’s not a phrase you hear much, is it?

pin confidenceEarlier this week, I wrote and published an off-the-cuff confession about my habit of downplaying (and even demeaning) my writing in front of others. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I’m glad I chose to share my weakness, because it turns out that I’m not alone. Many of you apparently have the same knee-jerk reaction to innocent questions (and even compliments) about your writing.

Anyway, there were some wonderful comments on the post and the conversation got me thinking.

Sara Foley, for instance, pointed out that, “We have this funny thing that being a writer means a) being paid for writing b) a certain type of writing.”

And, bluecarpaintedgreen noted that, “Admitting you’re working on fiction pieces is a form of vulnerability, as it can hint at hopes and dreams; it’s personal.”

Soul Writer (aka Renee Brooks) offered a bit of encouragement, “It seems that we tend to put ourselves down a lot – especially as artists, and I do think a lot of it has to do with comparing ourselves to others. We just have to recognize that we are all relevant and that our gifts and talents deserve expression – no matter what.”

As I read the comments, I started wondering about what I could change so I don’t cringe when responding to the seemingly innocent but dreaded question, “What do you do?” I’m still pondering this quandary, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Expectations. Lose them. 

I don’t know much about Buddhism, but I’m fascinated by the influence expectations have on our happiness. These insidious little buggers pop up everywhere like little rain clouds casting shadows on our lives. Maybe you expected to have been published by now. Maybe you expect people to think less of you because you haven’t been published. Maybe you expect people to assume your writing is just a “cute” hobby.

Expectations back us into a corner. They set us up for failure before anything has even happened. Even positive expectations can create additional stress by increasing your odds of disappointment. It’s human nature to jump ahead, abandoning the present moment in order to try and predict what will happen in the future. But, in my experience, it doesn’t achieve much. Better to stay in the moment.

Comparison is evil. 

Comparing ourselves to others is also human nature and even more pointless than harboring expectations.

Though there may be points of similarity between one path and another, no two writer’s journeys are the same. Your experience is unique, but that doesn’t make it any better or worse than any other writer’s. It just makes it different.

When we compare ourselves to others, most of us tend to come out of it feeling inferior (more of that darn human nature). I’ve heard it said that the only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday. Have you grown since then? Have you learned anything? Have you gotten stronger in your craft? That’s the only acceptable comparison to make.

I said in my confessional post, “When someone asks you about what you do, they aren’t asking you to compare yourself to your ideal of a writer … They don’t deserve to have all your I’m-not-a-real-writer baggage dumped on their heads.” Remember that.

Let no one judge you, but you.

On a related note, you need to know and truly believe that no one has the right to judge you, but you. To date myself, Seinfeld had it right – you (and only you) are the rightful master of your domain. Other people can have their opinions, but yours is the only one that matters.

This is a particularly hard bit of advice for me to swallow because I tend to value Other People’s opinions over my own. Even if they are not in any way qualified to act as arbiter, I am easily persuaded that their two cents is worth way more than my own.

Dollars aren’t the only way to measure value.

Speaking of cents, it’s also important to remember that whether or not you are paid for your writing should not be the only measure of its worth. But, you already knew that.

Think about why you write and why you love writing. Is it because of the money? Not usually. Maybe you love the feeling of discovery as your words materialize on the page. Maybe you love the fulfillment you feel when you create a story out of thin air. Maybe writing brings you contentment and peace, or perhaps it inspires you to live your life more fully.

If you’re made to feel like your writing is “silly” or “indulgent,” remember all the riches it brings to your life. If the other person can’t understand that, I’m going to officially chalk that up as their loss.

It’s a work in progress, but I feel like I’m on the right track.

How about you? How do you manage the “What do you do?” question and all the angst it can bring?

What I’m Learning About Writing:

roller coasterMomentum is a seriously powerful writing tool.

I feel like I may have mentioned this before, but I’ve realized that writing tasks are kind of like roller coaster rides. When I’m just starting work on a piece, I feel like I’m settling into my seat, buckling up, and getting a tingling sensation up and down my spine. It’s a little nerve wracking. I don’t know what to expect. I’m afraid.

As I begin to write, it feels like my coaster car is clicking slowly up the track, each word landing on the page like the cog in the chain lift that pulls me up that first ascent. And then, as I start to gather speed and I can see the first peak, I feel my creative juices flowing more freely. I reach the apex, and looking down the other side have a moment of clarity about where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. Elation!

And then – whoosh! – everything becomes a blur as I hurtle down towards the next turn and the next incline. Up and down, around and around, loop-the-loop and upside down. Suddenly, the words are coming faster than my fingers can fly on the keyboard.

And then, just as suddenly, the ride is over and we’re pulling back into the station. I’m a little dizzy, but exhilarated. My hair, like my first draft, is a bit of a mess, but that’s okay. Now that my feet are back on solid ground, it’s time to start editing and revising. But, that’s a whole different ride.

What I’m Reading:

book breadcrumbsThis week I finished reading Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. This young adult novel is a retelling of The Snow Queen with bits and pieces of other fairytales woven into its shimmering, icy fabric. It’s an exciting story with edges of sadness – a story about growing up and discovering truths you never asked to know. It’s a tale of going into the dark woods and learning that they are so much darker and so much more complex than you ever imagined. The rules don’t work the way you thought they would and no one is who you expected them to be.

But, you also find out that even when you don’t understand the rules or know what you have to do, you can still accomplish things everyone told you were impossible. And though you might not have the fairytale ending you thought was there for the taking – was due you – you will find out that, in truth, the story never ends … and isn’t that better?

Ursu’s language is so beautiful it’s almost poetry – not only her word choices and sentence structure, but the overall cadence and rhythm of her narrative. I especially liked the musical way she uses repetition of words and imagery. It’s nearly hypnotic.

I read Breadcrumbs because of an essay I read in the Full Grown People anthology. Rebecca Stetson Werner’s essay, Into the Woods, quotes Ursu’s novel several times and I was intrigued in particular by this quote,

Now, the world is more than it seems to be. You know this, of course, because you read stories. You understand that there is the surface and then there are all the things that glimmer and shift underneath it. And you know that not everyone believes in those things, that there are people—a great many people—who believe the world cannot be any more than what they can see with their eyes. But we know better.

Anne Ursu, Breadcrumbs

Yes, we know better.

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin the way you see

Here’s to discovering your confidence and riding your personal writing roller coaster with your hands in the air and a rebel yell. 

Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. i am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
Roller Coaster Photo Credit: OliverN5 via Compfight cc

55 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – How to be a Confident Writer Plus Writing Tips and Good Reads

    • From what I’ve heard, almost all writers suffer from these same anxieties and doubts. I think it’s just part of the gig. You are definitely not alone! 🙂

    • Ha! Clever. 🙂
      I hope you do enjoy the blog post picks. There are so many great stories and essays out there.
      Happy Saturday reading and happy Sunday writing!

  1. Thank you for another great post! January’s been finalizing and publishing my first self published ebook (A Galaxy of Possibilities: Representation and Storytelling in Star Wars). It gave me the opportunity to learn the basics of Scrivener. Next month will be going back to short story and guest blog post writing! 🙂

    • Hello, Natacha! So nice to “see” you. It’s been a while. You must be busy. 🙂
      Nice work on wrapping up the ebook & learning some Scrivener basics. (I’m loving Scrivener for a variety of projects.)
      Glad you’re keeping up your momentum & hope it’s all been an enjoyable ride!

  2. I love this post and the previous one–I struggle with so many of these issues. Perhaps some of the traits that makes us writers–perceptiveness, being analytical and thoughful–make us more vulnerable to these pitfalls. I like all of your tips. I know that these types of traits are powerful when applied in the right ways, and not used as tools against ourselves!

    • I agree, Jean. I think that as writers we need to be more empathetic in order to do what we do. We have to open up in order to take everything in and then put it back out there in the world. It kind of makes sense that such vulnerability would also open us up to a higher-than-average depth of anxiety and doubt when it comes to our own worth.

      Glad you liked the tips. It’s all a work-in-progress, but I’m hoping to improve my own approach. Will keep you updated! 🙂

  3. It wasn’t until one night at my husband’s work party that I realized the group of strangers gathered around quizzing me about my writing were actually impressed that I’d written a novel. None of them had read it yet.

    Most people who read books but don’t write them think a writer is magic. It’s what I used to think. I realized minimizing my accomplishment made people uncomfortable. It was so much more fun to talk about my stories (and maybe their dreams about writing stories of their own) than hanging my head in shame.

    • What a great anecdote. Thanks for sharing.
      Interesting (and smart) to put yourself in the shoes of the people asking about your writing and very perceptive to understand that they feel a little like writing is magic.
      I agree that non-writers usually have a pretty unrealistic idea about what it takes to write even a short story, never mind a novel. Pop culture has romanticized writers in so many inaccurate ways; I can’t blame people for having a skewed perception of the craft.
      I love that you refocus the “what do you do” conversation on the other person and even your own stories. That’s the heart of the thing, isn’t it?

      Thanks again for sharing.

    • That’s right. And not only are you the foremost expert on you, you are also the only person who sees the world the way you do and can tell the stories you have to tell. Our unique perspective and experience is what makes our stories so unique and special.
      Thanks for coming by, Henrietta!

  4. I enjoyed both of your posts on this subject. In essence, that’s pretty much how I feel and what I said. I no longer mention what I do because most people don’t care; and I’m self-critical to begin with. Still, as writers we have to believe in ourselves and our ability to communicate. Good, bad, or otherwise, I refuse to compare myself to other authors. I have my voice, my style, and my stories to tell. I try to keep that in mind and not lose sight of my accomplishments.

    • Nice to see you again, Linda Lee. (I’m a “Lee,” too, btw – “Jamie Lee”) 🙂

      As my beau often says about life in general and certain challenges in particular, “Stay the course.” It’s easy to be pushed off our path by doubts or false mirages, but staying the course and keeping our accomplishments and goals in sight is a much more effective way to grow and move towards whatever it is that we seek.

  5. I found this post really encouraging. In the past I didn’t want to admit to people that I wanted to be a writer because I knew they would respond with something like ‘that’s not very realistic’. A few months ago, when I started my blog I decided to take a leap of faith and admit to the world that I wasn’t ashamed of being an aspiring author. I recently actually wrote a blog post about what it means to be a writer.

    Thank you for writing such a relatable and encouraging blog post 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Melis. Just left a comment over on your blog. Really liked the piece. Keep it up! 🙂

  6. Thanks for this inspiring post. Just what I needed as I was about to send a cover letter for a literary translation job that I have zero experience in. I’ll be fine if they don’t like my translation and I’ll carry on proposing them to others. Merci.

    • One day, one step, one cover letter at a time, right? 🙂
      Glad you found the post inspiring. Good luck with your submissions and applications. Keep it up!

    • Thanks, Ganesh. Glad you liked the metaphor. It’s a fun one to play with.
      Stay confident and keep writing.

    • Welcome, Lenise. 🙂
      As many things as there are outside our sphere of control in the “world of writing,” we are in charge of creating our journey. I’m glad you found the post refreshing and wish you luck on your journey.

  7. An enjoyable and learning piece of writing. Thank you for your tips ans tools of the trade. Once upon a time, I had thought I would write and pursue journalism. It turns out I didn’t know what I wanted. Being from a small Idaho town and the pressure from my parents to pursue a logical field, I stepped away from that idea of a dream.

    • And that’s okay. Once a writer, always a writer. You will (or perhaps already have) come back to it in your own time and your own way.
      Thanks for sharing.

  8. Reblogged this on tsholofelo wechoemang and commented:
    I have felt like this for a while. Not content with just saying that I’m a writer, because I would compare myself to the great writers of my time… Not conducive to growth or even appreciation of my craft.

    I know better now.

  9. Oh, i love how you describe writer’s momentum – it is exactky like that, you nailed it. Every time i sit down to write, whether i know what i’m writing or not, there is a little bit of fear, a little teetering on the edge with a foot in the unknown. And then…we’re off 🙂 oh and hey, how about that article on the writer’s voice that quotes you! Awesome 🙂

    • Thanks, Sara. I love your description as well – teetering on the edge … that feeling of uncertainty about whether this is a good idea … or not. 😉

      TKS also re: the note on the article about the writer’s voice. That was pretty neat. (Though, she caught me at one of my more “purple” – as in purple prose – moments!)

      Nice to “see” you. Hope you had a good weekend.

  10. You are right…I do tend to be concerned about others’ opinion of my writing and I, sometimes, allow it to keep me back from writing what I am feeling at the moment. It’s like it almost hinders my creative freedom.

  11. Great post, and helpful for those of us who have never had our work published. I have found being criticized by “real” writers to be just as terrifying as the fear of being criticized by readers. I care more about what published writers think than what the average reader might think, most days.

    I have been told I am not a writer because writing is not my day job, I am not published, and I have never been paid to write. I can’t be certain, but I don’t think anyone paid Homer. How many people can afford to live without working? I can’t and my boyfriend can’t support us both until I get published. I may never even finish a single work, much less seek an agent or publisher. I write because something inside me compells me to do so. I cannot live without writing. That is what makes me a writer, not my number of published works, how much I have been paid to write, or because writing is not my day job.

    Non-writers have a glamorized idea of what a writer’s life is like. They think it is all coffee shops, home offices with pretty views, and sipping on hot tea while the checks roll in. Sometimes I love writing, most of the time in fact, but I admit I sometimes hate it. I have too many ideas to keep them straight. I am kept awake at night by swirling stories, subplots, and character summaries. I have no dedicated office space because I live in a shitty rent house with my boyfriend who absolutely does not understand what it’s like to write. He bugs me while I am reading. He blares the TV while I read and work. He asks me what I am writing WHILE I AM WRITING. Working on a shitty laptop with a football game in the background, going on six hours sleep, and working 50 hours per week at my day job so we can pay the bills is NOT glamorous. Furthermore, even though I answer the “What do you do” question with, “I am an office manager for a medical weghtloss clinic,” I still think people like me have earned the title of “writer”. I just so happen to work a bullshit, thankless, meaningless day job so I can pay my bills and not starve to death while I chase my sorely misunderstood dream.

  12. Pingback: Weekend Edition – How to be a Confident Writer Plus Writing Tips and Good Reads | twentysomething

  13. When I first started writing I was very embarrassed by what I did for a living. I always assumed people thought I was ‘shooting a line’ or considered my career as more of a hobby. I guess in a way we are guilty for doing something we love as it does not feel like work.

  14. Pingback: Thoughts on “How to be a Confident Writer . . . “ | Philosofishal

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