Colleen M. Story
I attended a week-long writing workshop once that nearly destroyed my confidence as a writer. Though workshops can be very helpful, it depends on the teacher, and this particular one didn’t know how to guide and motivate writers.
There are many times in a writer’s career when something happens to zap our confidence, and that’s not good, because self-confidence may be the one thing that separates successful writers from those who never reach their goals.
The question then becomes: How do you get that confidence back, or find it in the first place?
First, it’s important to know what kind of confidence we’re talking about here. This isn’t about inflating your ego, bragging, or believing you’re special. In fact, these types of beliefs—often associated with the high “self-esteem”—can actually be detrimental to success.
In a 2013 study, psychologist Jean Twenge and colleagues examined the results of the “American Freshman Survey,” which asks students to rate how they measure up to their peers. Results showed that over the past few decades, there’s been a dramatic rise in the number of students who think they’re “above average.”
These students are also more likely to label themselves as gifted in writing ability, interestingly enough, even though objective test scores show that actual writing ability has decreased since the 1960s.
A related study showed there has been a 30 percent increase in narcissistic attitudes over the past few decades. Unfortunately, despite popular belief, the “self-esteem” movement that encouraged parents and teachers to tell children to believe they were great no matter what, has not been found to lead to success.
Students who were struggling with their grades, for example, who received encouragement aimed at boosting their self-esteem, were actually found to perform worse. Scientists believe these types of interventions removed the motivation to work hard, which is always necessary for true success in anything.
Instead, the way to bolster achievement is to nurture a form of self-confidence called “self-efficacy.” This is the belief that you can succeed in a specific situation or accomplish a particular task if you set your mind to it—you can finish that novel, self-publish your book, recover from that scathing critique, or create a successful launch.
"You need to believe that you can go out and do something but that's not the same as thinking that you're great," Twenge says. She suggests you picture a swimmer attempting to learn a new skill, like turning quickly. Self-efficacy means the person believes she can obtain that skill if she works hard enough. Self-esteem is the belief that she’s a great swimmer, regardless of whether she learns the skill or not.
Self-efficacy is the type of confidence we need as writers.
Self-efficacy (or self-confidence) effects a number of things that determine whether or not we reach our goals, including one super important thing—how well we learn.
Learning is a huge part of a writing career. Not only are we continually learning how to improve our skills as writers, but we’re also learning about publishing, self-publishing, marketing, building a platform, and more. With each change in the industry or new technological wonder, we have to go back to being students, just to keep up.
Self-efficacy also determines how well we respond to the inevitable difficulties that crop up. In their findings, Tuckman and Sexton (1992) suggested that participants with higher self-efficacy were better at searching for solutions to problems and were more persistent when working on difficult tasks—qualities that writers definitely need. People with low self-efficacy, on the other hand, were more likely to give up more easily.
Albert Bandura, psychologist at Stanford University, wrote in a paper on self-efficacy: "Perceived self-efficacy is defined as people's beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave."
Note the huge implications there - self-efficacy effects how we:
And isn’t that everything that’s involved in writing? If any of these things are off, don’t we falter in reaching our goals?
Says bestselling author and speaker Margie Warrell, “It’s been long established that the beliefs we hold—true or otherwise—direct our actions and shape our lives. The good news is that new research into neural plasticity reveals that we can literally rewire our brains in ways that affect our thoughts and behavior at any age.”
That means if you don’t feel this type of self-confidence when facing the page, or considering any other move in your career, you can change that.
There are several practical, realistic ways you can boost your writer’s confidence. (Find more in the free report, below.) Here are five ways to get started.
As noted above, those with low self-efficacy give up quickly, while those with high self-efficacy—or self-confidence—continue to work to find solutions. We often put limits on ourselves in terms of how much we can learn—when things don’t go well the first time, we tend to think it’s hopeless.
“[The learning curve] is really steep initially,” says professor and study author Darron Billeter. “There’s some pain associated with it, but we’re actually improving. You’re going to be better than you think you are and are going to learn it quicker than you think you are.”
Here’s where you need to be your own best cheerleader. Tell yourself you can do it, and keep trying.
Here’s another tip: talk to yourself in the third person. Research has shown that you can motivate yourself better that way!
For example: “Eileen, you can finish this novel. Just keep going.” Or, “Adam, just because your first self-publishing attempt didn’t turn out as you hoped, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it better this time.”
Too often we think we’re just supposed to “believe in ourselves,” but in truth, it’s when we take clear, concrete action that we boost self-confidence.
Typically when you start anything new—whether that be writing, publishing, or some other related activity—you’re likely to feel unsure about it. Your confidence may be low, and your fear may be high. The important thing is to act anyway. The moment you do, your energy and motivation will increase, which will help you keep going.
Then, with every action you take, your skills will increase. You’ll learn something, and that learning will boost your confidence. So don’t let fear stand in your way—just do it!
True self-confidence stems from knowing exactly what your skills are, so you can take steps to improve them.
“Exceptional achievers always experience low levels of confidence and self-confidence,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, “but they train hard and practice continually until they reach an acceptable level of competence.”
For a writer, that means getting those critiques, working with an editor, and being open to improvement. Just be sure to guard your creative self when you’re going about these activities.
Your best approach: always get more than one critique. Submit to contests that supply more than one, or ask two editors to give you a sample edit. That way you can compare and contrast the feedback, ignore the subjective comments, and work on those all the critiques have in common.
Keep in mind—this isn’t simply imagining yourself with your published book in your hands, or your sales numbers rising. It’s imagining the process you’re going to go through and the hoped-for outcome. Imagining each step puts your unconscious mind to work at making sure you follow through on those steps.
If you want to increase those sales numbers, for instance, imagine each task you’re going to complete to reach more readers.
“If you can't imagine yourself being successful,” says Hendrie Weisinger Ph.D., “confidence will be hard to come by. Confident people have a history of having playful positive visualizations of themselves in all sorts of moments.”
So your agent wasn’t able to sell your first book. You can look at that as a failure, or you can reframe your view of the event—thus, boosting your self-confidence.
According to the authors of the book, Learning, Remembering, Believing: “If one has repeatedly viewed these experiences as successes, self-confidence will increase; if these experiences were viewed as failures, self-confidence will decrease.”
How can you view what seems to be a failure as a success? Write down everything you learned, including the skills you gained, and realize that even if it didn’t turn out as you hoped, you still pocketed the experience. That means you are, essentially, “more experienced” than you were before, and your next attempt will likely benefit from that experience.
By the way, the more difficult the experience was—writing a novel, publishing a book, launching a book, etc.—the more it may boost your confidence. “The influence that performance experiences have on perceived self-confidence also depends on the perceived difficulty of the task,” the authors wrote, as well as on “the effort expended.”
In closing, remember this: you can always learn more and improve your skills, no matter what. Have confidence in that.
"There will always be people smarter, there will always be people richer, there will always be people more competent,” says psychologist Audrey Brodt. “The issue is self-improvement, and that will come if you apply yourself and persevere."
For more information on how to boost your writer’s confidence, get your free report here: “7 Easy & Effective Ways to Increase Your Writer’s Confidence.”
What have you done to shore up your confidence as a writer? What tips can you share? Is there one tip from above that resonates with you?
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Colleen M. Story is the author of Overwhelmed Writer Rescue—a motivational read to help writers escape the tyranny of the to-do list and nurture the genius within. The book was named Solo Medalist in the New Apple Book Awards, Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book, and first place in the Reader Views Literary Awards.
Colleen is also a novelist and has worked in the creative writing industry for over twenty years. She is the founder of Writing and Wellness. For more information, please see her author website, or follow her on Twitter (@colleen_m_story).
Briggs, S. (2014, July 5). Self-Efficacy: How Self-Confidence Improves Learning.
Carroll, P. J. (2014). Upward Self-Revision: Constructing Possible Selves. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 36(5), 377-385. doi:10.1080/01973533.2014.934451
Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2012, July 6). Less-Confident People Are More Successful.
College Foundation of North Carolina. (n.d.). CFNC.org - Article.
Kremer, W. (2013, January 4). Does confidence really breed success?
Self-Confidence and Performance. (1994). In D. Druckman & R. A. Bjork (Eds.), Learning, remembering, believing: Enhancing human performance (pp. 173-206).
Warrell, M. (2015, August 26). Use It Or Lose It: The Science Behind Self-Confidence.
Weisinger, H. (2015, September 1). The Essence of Confidence.
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