I’m a professional writer. I work for blogs and the occasional magazine, and in the past I’ve written for clients who wanted website copy. My fiction has also been published, including a couple of competition prizes. Small successes, perhaps; but even these wouldn’t have happened without a strong level of writing confidence.
Since I write for a number of blogs, I often get questions from would-be writers. Something which crops up frequently is a lack of confidence. Many (surprisingly good) writers never send pieces to an editor, or agonise over every post they write on their own blog.
It doesn’t need to be that way. Good writing isn’t the preserve of a few lucky individuals – after all, none of us were born able to write! And, in the 21st century, many stifling grammatical “rules” no longer apply. You’re free to write in your own voice and your own style … and you can enjoy it. Here’s how:
Treat Writing As a Skill
Now, I’ll admit that some people do seem to be natural-born writers, just as others have an innate talent for music or art. Writing is a skill, however – one that can be learnt. This could include
- The technicalities of writing (like where to put a comma and how to ensure subject-verb agreement). If your grasp of grammar is shaky, there are lots of books that can help.
- Writing style and fluidity. An evening class or a correspondence course, where you get feedback from a tutor, can help you to develop stylistically.
- Voice and purpose. One of the most important things to learn in writing is how to tailor a piece to an audience. This means learning how to write in different tones, from chatty to professional to motivational.
Good writers spend time learning and honing their craft, which gives them true confidence – because they know their skills are up to scratch.
If you’ve ever learnt to play an instrument, or studied a foreign language, you’ll know how important it is to practice. Even if your first attempts are faltering, you quickly get better. It’s just the same with writing: the more you write, the better you’ll become.
Writing practice could include:
- Exercises or “writing prompts” to help you get into the flow of writing regularly
- Trying out different styles, voices and tones in your writing
- Publishing pieces on a blog or forum
- Entering writing competitions (these are usually, though not exclusively, for fiction and poetry)
- Don’t be put off if your first attempts aren’t all you hoped – and don’t compare yourself to people who’ve been writing for years. Charlie Gilkey has a great post on Productive Flourishing showing how several excellent bloggers have developed confidence and flair as writers: Becoming Yourself and Growing Your Blog.
Try Using a Template
Many writers lack confidence because they’re not sure how to structure a piece. Starting at a blank page, wondering where and how to start, is unlikely to improve your spirits!
I often use a template when I write. This is usually something very simple: when I write reviews, for instance, I follow a simple structure with several subheadings so that each review has a consistent look and feel. If you adopt a similar practice for articles, essays, reports, blog posts and even emails, it’s a big confidence-booster as it reassures you that you’ve not left anything out.
So where do you find templates? I like to make my own, but you could also find an article, blog post or even a short story that you’ve enjoyed, and work out the structure – then create something which is structured in the same way. For example, you could use this post to make a very simple template:
Subheading for point one
Content for point one
Subheading for point two
Content for point two
Subheading for point seven
Content for point seven
Concluding line with call to action
Your First Draft Can Be Rubbish
Almost every professional writer will admit (if only secretly) that their first drafts aren’t exactly great. Earnest Hemmingway famously said:
The first draft of anything is crap.
Remember that no-one ever needs to see your first draft. If you write the dullest article in the world, if your blog post is full of typos or if it contains way too much personal information, if your short story has a paper-thin plot and ridiculous dialogue … no-one will ever know.
When you’re drafting, put away your fears of what other people will think, and just write. When I’m writing fiction, my first draft is always a very poor shadow of what I hope the finished product will be: but the point is just to get the story down. Many fiction writers work in a similar way, redrafting extensively:
Once I’ve got the first draft down on paper then I do five or six more drafts, the last two of which will be polishing drafts. The ones in between will flesh out the characters and maybe I’ll check my research. (Colleen McCullough)
If you write slowly and carefully, pondering each sentence, then you’re likely to have a crisis of confidence part-way through. Many professional writers draft astonishingly quickly: I have a tutor at my college who confesses that even basic punctuation can get left out in his rush to get draft material onto the page.
Bloggers, journalists (and ex-journalists) are often very speedy writers, used to the pressure of very tight deadlines. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, explained on Write to Done that:
These days, I post to four different blogs without it taking large chunks of my life away: Zen Habits, Write To Done, mnmlist.com and now Zen Family Habits. If I allowed perfection and a million other obstacles to get in my way, I’d never be able to get my ideas out there.
(Frictionless blogging: Remove the barriers to publishing)
In many cases, you’ll want to go back and do some editing – but try to make the first draft as seamless and fast as possible. Writing several pages, even if they’re not quite perfect, can be great for your confidence, as it gives you a deserved sense of accomplishment!
Are you a confident writer – or do you find yourself feeling anxious about writing? Have any tips worked well for you? What secrets would you add to this list?
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