This post is the first in a new "Monday Motivation" series designed to encourage you to take risks with your writing and keep pushing forward despite the fear, doubts, and confidence issues that often creep into a writer's mind. You'll find a mix of personal stories, tips, exercises, reality checks, and motivational quotes and resources every Monday moving forward.
Fear. Doubt. A lack of confidence in yourself and your abilities. When you're a creative professional, these things will rear their ugly heads at one point or another.
And when they do, it falls on you to beat them back into submission so you can carry on.
I know. That can be easier said than done. I, like anyone, still battle these demons -- more often than I'd like to admit. I talked a little bit about my own fear and confidence issues as a writer in a podcast with Princess Jones a while back if you want to hear those stories.
This week has been a particularly rough one, with multiple personal losses leading to fear, other concerns, and even doubts about my own confidence in certain ways.
But moving forward isn't an option. It's a necessity.
So I put on a pot of late night coffee, sat outside under the stars enjoying the icy breeze, came back in and wrote a short poem just to prove to myself that I could, and then got back to work (writing this post).
That's where I want to start with this series. I want you to know that you're not alone when it comes to dealing with these kinds of struggles. We'll start with some stories about the things that still scare me personally. Then we'll look at some common fears and doubts that come up with writers, and ways you can try to cope with them in the moment so you can continue moving forward.
Confidence Issues and Creatives
Tonight this very issue of confidence among creative types came up in a conversation with another writer, Paula Hendrickson. We talked about our history with music and how we were both in the position of having to perform solos -- her playing flute, me playing clarinet and trumpet.
I still remember the first time and how terrifying it was to me. And in Paula's case, she admitted to intentionally sabotaging herself because she was too afraid to take on that solo. It's an urge I could understand.
@Jenn_Mattern As 1st chair flute in H.S., I intentionally blew a challenge so I wouldn't have to play a 4-8 bar solo at a major competition.
— Paula Hendrickson (@P_Hendrickson) November 7, 2016
Music is a great comparison to writing in my own case because my confidence goes from one extreme to the other. On one hand, I was a natural musician. You put a brass or woodwind instrument in my hands, and I can play it with little to no instruction. I don't know why that is, but it gave me a lot of confidence growing up.
For example, I started out playing the clarinet in school. I quickly got to first chair. Then, being me, I didn't feel challenged anymore because there was nowhere else to go.
I told the band director I needed a more difficult challenge. So next came trumpet. And even though I was years behind other players in that instrument when I started, I quickly rose again. I made first section my first year in regionals. There was even more of a spotlight on me when I started playing with the orchestra too.
Because of things like that, I've never been afraid to try new things when it comes to music. I had plenty of confidence boosters along the way.
The same can be said when it comes to things like writing, marketing, and PR. I won a statewide marketing competition I had no expectation of even placing for, and I've won every formal debate I've been involved in, so I was reassured of my persuasive abilities from a young age and have put them to use in my career.
My first media appearance on a local TV station in my college city went far better than I could have expected. And in PR, I got the right encouragement from the right people when I needed it.
That's why I have a decent amount of confidence when it comes to public speaking (it used to terrify me to the point of being almost crippling; now it scares me briefly, but I make myself do it and excel). It wasn't because of natural confidence but because of those kinds of experiences and that encouragement which broke me out of my shell.
But the opposite is also true.
With music, I was terrified of having the spotlight on me in any solo or duet.
I later taught myself the basics on guitar and piano, but I have very little confidence with them compared to other instruments. I never let people hear me play them (my skills are truly lacking). I mostly use them as a means of escape or to de-stress when I'm alone, and I use them when writing music.
I also sing. But I almost never let anyone hear me, and when I do it's only because I didn't realize they were around.
The only exception was back in high school. I tried out for a school musical, solely because a friend wanted to and was too afraid to do it alone. So I bit the bullet and sang on stage in front of maybe 20 people at the try-out. While I didn't get a major role or anything, I did get offered a role. And I backed out. I never actually wanted to be in it. It was solely for moral support. And I was terrified.
The instructor recruited me into the chorus after that, but even in a group I couldn't stand letting people hear me sing. So I quit chorus quickly and went back to the comfort of the brass section. There's something deeply personal about singing to me, and it's a part of me I tend to keep for myself (though I do intend to change that).
Heck, even talking -- launching the podcast here was a huge step for me because I used to struggle with not wanting people to hear me speak. And that was after already having run a live call-in show years prior.
As I mentioned in the podcast with Princess (linked above), my confidence issues with writing have more to do with the fiction side of things. In freelancing my confidence comes from my background in marketing and PR. In fiction, it feels more like performing that solo, as if all eyes are on me.
And it's similar to singing in that it carries that more deeply personal connection to me than my nonfiction writing. I don't know why that is, but it's why sharing my fiction scares me much more than other types of writing. Perhaps it's a feeling that people are judging the writing itself less than they're judging me.
So while I write fiction, so far most of it has been kept to myself (with the exception of some very rough first drafts on an experimental flash fiction blog), a few trusted beta readers who have seen some of my work, and just one short story that I've pitched this year -- they expect to send out rejections by the end of this year, and honestly I'm almost looking forward to my first just for the sake of getting over that hurdle).
The only thing worse than fiction for me is poetry. I'd stopped writing it for years (no idea why, as I'd been published while back in school). I only started again this year with the guidance and encouragement of a fellow writer. And sharing it even with just one person was horrifying to me.
But today I made a decision on the poetry front. This particular poem still needs some work. But I plan to polish it a bit more and pitch it. I don't know if I'll find it a home any time soon, but that's one type of fear I can force myself to face. I'm also planning to submit a couple of horror short stories and flash fiction pieces to publications by the end of the year just to get myself in the habit of doing so.
No matter what kind of fears or doubts you're facing as a writer, you can tackle them. Sometimes it helps to have a confidante -- another writer, a friend, a family member. And sometimes it's just a matter of mindset.
Let's look at some examples of fears writers and other creative types often face, and how you can think about them in a different light in order to move past them.
Common Writing Fears & Doubts
The next time that little voice in your head gets the better of you, here's what you should remember:
"I'm not good enough."
Reality Check: Yes. You probably are. What is "good enough" anyway? How awful to judge yourself by someone else's subjective measures. You either bring value to the table or you don't. And you know which is true in your case. (If you don't, start by doing a SWOT analysis to take an objective look at your situation.)
And really, even if you aren't good enough for something right now, so what? You can improve your writing. You can improve your industry knowledge as a freelancer. You can improve your marketing.
You. Can. Improve.
So tell that voice in your head to bugger off. Then go do what you need to do to get better.
"So-and-so is Better Than Me."
Reality Check: Says who? And why do you care? Sure, there's competition in writing. But the opportunities far exceed your competitors. And you happen to work in a field where competitors are far more likely to be supportive colleagues. Forget so-and-so, and focus on you.
The only person you need to worry about being better than is the person that you were yesterday.
No One is Going to Pay Me $XXX Per Hour (or Article, or Whatever)
Reality Check: Have you bothered to ask? As a freelancer, no one else is going to value your time and talents at a professional level until you do.
Asking and still getting pushback? Then figure out why that is.
Are your samples not up to snuff? Create new ones (even if they're marketing materials for your own business).
Does your website brag about you working for lower-tier clients? Remove them so better clients don't assume you can't cut it in their markets.
Who are you asking? Maybe the problem isn't your value, but rather your target market.
Remember, it doesn't take a lot of pro-level clients to fill a freelance schedule. You don't need to find a huge number of prospects who see enough value in your work to pay your desired rates. You just need to find the right ones.
What other fears and doubts do you face as a writer? Tell me in the comments, and I'll happily set that little voice in your head straight.