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“Tell me (and the rest of our community) what you need encouragement in this week.”
I posted this question to The Writing Cooperative’s Facebook Group earlier this week. It wasn’t something I planned, it just felt like a good conversation starter (I called the thread “Tell Me Tuesday” which had excellent alliteration). Every response had a common theme: a lack of confidence.
Believing in ourselves is never easy. It took me a year to decide it was time to walk away from a job I loved because I was not confident in my abilities outside that world. But I chose growth over fear and took the leap.
As creatives, we pour ourselves into our work. Every word we type is a little part of us, put into the world for others to read, scrutinize, and criticize. It’s easy to buy into the lie that our work isn’t “good enough” or that “we’re not ready” to be published.
What I learned about changing careers is incredibly important to learn as a writer. If we want to be successful, we must believe in ourselves.
Here are four lies, or self-limiting beliefs, we often tell ourselves and how we can overcome them.
Lie: My story isn’t unique
Ever heard the expression, there’s nothing new under the sun? Writers are prone to believing this lie. We convince ourselves our idea isn’t original, or it’s played out, or no one will care about our perspective.
The original Star Wars movie earned $307,263,857 domestically in 1977. Adjusted for inflation, that is $1.36 billion today. The film was a massive success and spawned an empire (pun intended) of sequels, prequels, merchandise, and theme parks.
While revolutionary, George Lucas’ Star Wars was not unique. The story closely follows the Hero’s Journey described by Joseph Campbell in 1949’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Campbell captures the essence of storytelling that captured the world for thousands of years.
Star Wars took the Hero’s Journey into space, and the result was a massive success. Yet, if George Lucas bought into the lie that his story wasn’t original, Star Wars would be lost in a notebook somewhere waiting to be discovered.
Your story is unique to your way of telling, your concept, and shaped by your experiences. No one can take that away from you. Be proud of your ideas and confident they deserve to be shared.
Lie: No one wants to read my writing
I managed volunteers for fifteen years. A big part of volunteer management is recruitment. For years, I’d look at the list of potential volunteers and make decisions for other people. Joe travels for work, so he’s probably too busy or Sally has three kids and takes care of her mother, so she doesn’t have time. Before even asking Joe or Sally, I’d already decided they’d say no.
Who am I to make a decision for someone else? As writers, we never want to take agency away from our characters, so we do it in real life?
Building confidence as a writer means facing rejection. If a piece is rejected, we haven’t lost anything. Instead, we allowed someone to decide, and they passed. Rejection is part of writing, and doesn’t put us in any place different had we not submitted. But if we send a piece and the publisher says yes? Well, talk about a boost in confidence!
Lie: People will think less of me when they read my work
E.L. James, writing under the name Snowqueens Icedragon, published Master of the Universe online in 2009. The work placed Twilight characters, Bella and Edward, into erotic situations. Changing little but the names, James’ Fifty Shades of Grey sold more than 70 million copies and spawned a series of books and films.
We like to play a game where we rank our work against other genres. If we write narrative essays, we want to think we’re not on the same level as poets — “the true artists.” Or we believe writing erotic fiction is a lesser form of novel writing. Or writing scripts is a lazy way of telling stories. We do this to ourselves all the time.
Who’s to say one form of art is better than another? We should follow our creative muses wherever they take us. What works for me might not work for you, but it will work for someone.
E.L. James found her market, and no matter what we write, we will find ours.
Lie: I don’t have anything to write about
When our confidence wains, we accept the lie that we’re tapped out of stories. Yet stories are all around us, we just need to capture them.
Every night I answer three questions in a journal. The questions change over time, but the premise is always the same: tell the day’s story. No one reads these stories except me, but the ideas fuel published work. Answering the questions help pull stories out of my head that otherwise would be locked in forever.
Writers write. Whether it’s just for ourselves or published for the world, we always have something to write about.
In the fantastic book on creativity, Embrace Your Weird, Felicia Day exclaims, “the world deserves to hear our voice during our time here on this earth.” We all have a story to tell, we just have to put it on paper.
Conclusion: Win the day
Confidence is a hard thing to come by, especially for artists. Yet, if we want to achieve success as a writer, we must find our confidence and stop buying into these lies.
A friend told me last week she’s figuring out ways to win the day, every day. Building confidence in ourselves and in our work requires winning every day.
We start small by determining what winning today entails. Maybe it’s a personal journal entry. Maybe it’s 50 words in your work in progress. Maybe it’s free writing without stopping for five minutes. Maybe it’s just functioning as an adult. Whatever winning today is, we must go out and do it. Then we strive to win tomorrow, too.
Before you know it, we’ll build confidence to confront the lies preventing our success. And then? Look out world, because here we come.