Why Self-Help is absolutely important for fledgling writers
Before 2017, I occasionally scribbled down ideas and wrote super short stories, enjoying the admiration and barely taking note of the criticism I was given from the few friends I felt okay with sharing my work with. That changed when I scored a gig as a copy editor for a magazine with high standards that required I put in my best at all times.
I failed. A lot. Made mistakes over and over, trying to pick up myself and get better. I struggled a lot with myself, wondering how I couldn’t grasp a single concept, wondering why my pieces were all terrible. I thought about throwing in the towel quite a number of times, almost stuck in the belief that “writing” wasn’t for me. It was super hard to try to convince myself though because writing to me, has been one of my creative outlets (if not the only outlet) that has helped me get through panic attacks and terrible mood swings for years.
Getting better was really difficult because I was quite pessimistic. What else, after all, can you do when there’s a profoundly pessimistic (and self-sabotaging) voice inside your head that’s actively discouraging you from trying? Telling you that whatever you do, it won’t be good enough, ’cause you’re not good enough? With such self-doubt and anxiety gnawing away at me, my self-confidence and determination dissipated. And so my ability to heed the healthier voice of common sense ended up missing in action for quite a while.
My editor threatened me to sit up and with a sack letter no less so I had to better myself or leave. I found a pattern I could use and tried to explore it the best way I could. Sadly, I had to leave the magazine and I still wonder what I could have probably been under their tutelage.
This backstory is simply a backdrop for the self-help tips I picked up and how they applied to me. As you’d rightly guess, anxiety and self-doubt is the perfect recipe to create an under-confident underachiever and that is a terrible tag to have. So here’s a quick breakdown on how I managed to gain a little more confidence in myself.
- Admit your shortcomings: This might seem like overkill because anxiety already makes you believe you’re crappy at what you do but it’s necessary. You will need to take a few steps back and go through your work and ask yourself whether you really like what you put down. This is important because you need to have a standard for your work. Take a good hard look at your piece and read it out, making sure to note the bits that stick out uncomfortably. When you do, think of what can be done to remedy that. If you don’t think you can find your flaws, call for help. A trusted experienced writer or editor will put you through.
- Fix up your mistakes: I realized I needed to fix up or leave, so fix up I did. I went through all my articles, visualizing how I wanted it to read and corrected the bits I could. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that the foundation of your piece must be good. If not, your fix up will be like slapping expensive paint on a building that’s crumbling fast. It may take the help of a trusted editor to put you through this and give you ideas on how to go about this.
- Listen to your editor but trust your gut: Your editor is and will forever be your best friend and your worst nightmare. Sometimes, you might be satisfied with your story but your editor feels there’s something iffy about it and there’s no pleasing him/her. Before you go ahead and trash the entire article, ask yourself “how does this affect the general story? Does this affect the point I want to make?” If it doesn’t, go on ahead and make those changes. If it does, you’d need to ask yourself whether or not you like the direction the piece is taking. If you don’t, you may have to go with your gut. It’s your story after all and you should aspire to match up with your mental ideals.
- Read, write and write some more: Writing, as I came to find out, gets easier with practice. You need to read to write and continuously doing both gives one a practiced eye and hand. Your use of language evolves and your ease at breaking down complex ideas increases.
- Pour yourself into your writing. It’s tempting to try to save your best work for a special standout piece but that moment may never come. Instead, pack your pathos into everything. The more you give, the more you make yourself vulnerable, the more you evolve as a writer.
- Stop reading “How-To” tips and just do: Trust me, it helps in the long run.
Writing is difficult and it’s quite rare to find a writer who is super-confident in his ability to deliver on request. However, continuous practice makes it a whole less difficult and with time, you’d be able to look back at previous pieces and cringe. Because you’re way better now.