You've got this! Building Writing Confidence
Cute dogs and tigers? Book Coach Collective member Savannah Gilbo created the photo on the left, featuring her adorable dog Luna, during a discussion about how tough we can be on ourselves when we compare ourselves to others. This led to a conversation about how the authors we coach experience similar feelings with their writing. Coaching involves much more than technical expertise. The challenge of writing a book has as much to do with mindset as with grammar and plot.
Writing can be hard. Writers are tasked with creating something out of nothing but ether and brain cells. It feels risky to put your creative work into the world where it can be rejected. Somewhere deep in your psyche, your brain is trying to protect you from risk. The brain evolved this way because risky behavior by early humans could result in being eaten by tigers.
How tigers evolved
Even the biggest writing failure is unlikely to draw blood – paper cuts aside. So why does the modern mind still try to shut writers down?
Somewhere in the evolution of writers, “I’m going to die” was replaced with “I’m not good enough.” This fear of failure runs deep and requires bravery.
Sometimes it also requires a reset – remembering why you started writing. You may be called to write or have stories inside that need to be told. You may find joy in writing. It’s worth asking what you would do instead of writing. Is there something more important or fulfilling? Write because you love it.
Being clear on why you write is the first step to getting beyond the tigers. Here are four specific areas where tigers attack:
The shitty first draft
Legend has it that writers sequester themselves in a cabin in the woods (a la Thoreau) and come out however many days later having written the great American novel. There are so many myths tied into this story that it’s almost impossible not to fail. Tigers are everywhere.
Chances are you don’t have days of uninterrupted writing time, not to mention your very own cabin (although it would be great during quarantine). You have to get that first draft out around work, kids, and life in general. It’s likely to take months or years, not days. Is that failure? No. Are tigers going to eat you? No.
If you keep writing until you finish that draft, regardless of the time it takes or the quality of the writing, you win. Celebrate.
You know that feeling you get when the words on the page don’t match the elegant story in your head? If you said yes, then you are a writer.
Writers tend to be readers, and readers read published, edited work. The chasm between what you read and how it started is both huge and unseen. Comparing your draft to a published novel is like showing up at your first gymnastics class and expecting to perform like Simone Biles.
The tiger here is your own misguided expectations. If you let the tiger eat you, you’ll put down the pen. If you are a writer, you’ll figure out how to take the next step and make your writing better.
Asking for help can feel like failure but is actually the path to success. Have you ever looked at the acknowledgment page of a book? Successful authors have learned that many hands and eyes are required to bring a book into the world. Here at the Book Coach Collective, we believe in helping writers move forward.
To return to the gymnastics analogy, you will fail if you think you’re going to become Simone Biles by showing up at an empty gym every day and practicing by yourself. Great artists study for years, they don’t paint one painting and expect it to bring them fame. Ditto for musicians. All of them employ teachers and coaches to help them along the way. In writing, there are critique partners, editors, coaches, and many others to help you write your best books. Fighting tigers is much easier with a team beside you.
Not all failure tigers reside in your head. Even if you’ve written a great book, if you go the traditional publishing route you will face rejection. Perseverance is the only way past these tigers.
There are writers who consider it a badge of honor to receive 100 rejections a year – because it means they tried. Rejection may sting, but it won’t kill you.
If you publish, you will face more rejection. Not everyone will love your work. Take solace in the fact that you were brave enough to put your work out there, to have it judged. Querying and publishing always remind me of this quote by Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
There are definitely tigers in the arena, but they are not going to eat you.
Think about where you are stuck. Beyond the reasons of not having enough time or not thinking your work ready, is there a deeper fear of failure? Learn to recognize your tigers. Call them out and face them. Tell them they can’t have you. You can survive the tigers because you are a writer.
Kathryn is a full-time writer and certified book coach. She has more than 20 years of executive experience and provides writers with the strategies and solutions that help them write their best books.
Kathryn specializes in full and partial manuscript reviews and has an online course to help writers starting their novels. Expect honest and compassionate feedback with clear next steps to move your book forward.
Reach her at Next Step Book Coach.
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