How to Be a Confident Writer
The secret is to feel the pain of writing in order to enjoy it
Writing in general can be enjoyable if one is truly passionate, yet confidence about one’s writing is often in question, especially to newer writers. I hope that through this article, I can share how a writer can be confident. I would also like to preface this by saying that all that is written below is through either my personal experience or observation of others’ experiences.
Write, write, write
Needless to say, this is an important step in confidence building. After all, with enough practice, you would come to be more confident of your writing because you will realise your flaws, strengths, and writing style as time passes.
The pantheons of all-time greats from any field — scientists, painists, swimmers, anything at all — all gain confidence from practice.
Will this be painful? Oh yes, certainly. Do you have the stamina to write even after a long day at work? Do you have the discipline to choose writing over Netflix? And most importantly, do you have the passion to maintain the stamina and discipline?
I’m not sure if you know the great chinese writer Lu Xun, but he once said (above) that, and I translate: there is no genius in the world, it’s just that I spend the time others use for afternoon tea to write. Lu Xun is known for his discipline and strong appreciation for time — he never wastes time.
I think such iron discipline for writers, especially in today’s age of technology and entertainment, is very hard to achieve. It is painful. But how else to improve your writing without practice?
So what to write about? My answer is write anything you are passionate about, and more often than not, your writing would then tend to have more emotions and is generally more impactful to the readers.
Many say that a writer should focus on quality over quantity. However, for new writers, quantity may produce quality. Then again, how do you know if you have produced quality work? What you consider quality might not actually be quality in more experienced writers’ eyes. Hence the simple sounding yet difficult solution (mentally): send your works to an established writer.
Send your works to a writer (you admire)
I still remember that my high school Literature teacher forced me to send one of my plays to a playwright whose text we were studying. Then, I was very defensive of my work and quite shy when it came to receiving criticisms; I never voluntarily sent my works to be reviewed by my teachers because I was simply afraid of the kind of criticisms I would receive.
So I reluctantly emailed my piece and of course there was no response. It was more heartbreaking than him destroying my piece with his criticism. I spent a lot of time on that piece, and I was not ready to just give up; I sent it another and another playwright. In total, I sent the play to 5 playwrights and only received a reply from one. His criticisms were balanced and actually praised my work.
I would say that actually, what boosted my confidence the most was not his praises but rather the simple fact that he replied. It shows that my work, although rejected by 4 others, was good enough to receive his attention and dispense criticism. His reply was also a nod to say that I was going in the right direction as well as provide me with more directions as to what to improve on and what to do next.
Really, I doubt any words can do justice to the effects his simple reply had on me.
Note that many authors refuse to receive works and provide criticism. Not because they are mean, but because they are genuinely busy. Hence, check their websites before sending in your work. They may not welcome it.
Read a lot … but read not what you enjoy but what is beneficial
A lot of advice from gurus I read on the web says that to have the stamina to read a lot, you must read what you love. Unfortunately, many writers heed that advice, which is usually meant for your average Joe, and actually read just what they love.
This is counter-productive and in the long run might be bad for your writing.
Reading does not just improve your writing skills, but it also gives you ideas and perspectives. I have seen writers, and I place them in two categories:
- Those who write well but have little originality
- Those who write not so well, but have incredibly original ideas
I would say that playing catch up for writing is easier than trying to attain new ideas. This is because seeking ownership for ideas requires a lot of experience as well as reading about others’ experiences at the same time. As for improving one’s writing skills, writing a lot does the trick (to a certain but great extent).
So it would be faux pas to say that writers should read what they love because that is simply not true. Writers have to read widely, fiction and nonfiction, magazines (“The Economist”, “Time”, etc…) and the papers (The Times, The Post, etc…).
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking”
The above was said by Nagasawa, a character in Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood”. It is especially true for writers. No one likes to read copycat writers, no matter how elegant their language.
Also, writers should read Literature.
I have a friend and he studied Literature in college. When I introduced him to “Medium”, he treated “Medium” with disdain and contempt; he felt that as a Literature student, his writing was far more superior than, in his words, “all the two-bit bloggers”.
I’m not saying that you should read Literature just to become some pompous and arrogant writer, but it is a fact that reading Literature would make you more confident. The writing style in Literature is undeniably superior and that’s what makes it Literature, after all.
Initially it may feel like a pain reading classics and Literature, especially for those written a long time ago — it may feel unrelatable and distant. But trust me, you would gain interesting insights from Literature and feel that you have accomplished something.
The secret is to feel the pain of writing in order to enjoy it
Pain is often feared, but in reality, pain is good. Painful experiences bring lessons that one would have otherwise not learnt.
I have grown up in Asia, and have often heard personal stories from friends there. They all say that when they were young, they resented their parents for making life difficult and painful for them. But as they grow up, they realise that without the high expectations and strictness from their parents, they would not have been where they are today — and they are quite successful — doctors, lawyers, engineers, even a CEO.
I often compare asian and western societies and a common difference is parenting — asian parents often make life painful and vigorous for their children — something which Western parents do not do. Maybe western parents want their children to be happy. But too much pleasure is pain.
So writers: please do not think of pain as a bad thing. Pain will help improve your writing, and you will look back and feel proud that you have weathered the pain that probably not so many writers have experienced before. This is the ultimate way to gain confidence.
Enjoyment then comes after the pain when your writing is well-respected and appreciated; people would appreciate you as a writer and you will gain respect and recognition. This comes with the price tag of pain, but the reward of confidence.
Hence, to enjoy writing and become a confident writer, you must also enjoy feeling the pain of writing.