Monday, June 6, 2011

Four Confidence Saboteurs...and How to Address Them

Fact: There are several areas of personal and professional development a writer must master or at least have in check to succeed with their craft and writing career. One of those areas is Confidence. If you don't have it, and some to spare, success will be for those other writers who believe in themselves and their work.

But I know it's not that easy. Some days you feel pretty good about your work, feel pretty good about your progress, feel great about some positive reinforcement you received, feel pretty good about your bank balance. Everything is copacetic. And then there are those days where you feel you're as original as a post-it, turtles have covered more ground than you, your email is staring blankly back at you and you're too scared to check your bank balance online because you a minus sign might surprise ambush you. So what's the big difference between those days when all is right with your writer's life and the "nobody likes me, everybody hates me" days? Some days you park your self-doubt at the curb and forge ahead and other times you let it invite itself over and sleep on your couch for a while.

Self-doubt is the number one killer to your self confidence, no mystery there. But let's break it down into the four most common saboteurs that very sneakily work their way into your brilliant head and slam the breaks on your forward motion.

1. FEAR of the Unknown. What an ugly word. I really dislike the look and sound of fear. I really hate what it does to people, but we have to take a look at this beast for a minute. I want you to see it clearly for what it is and choose to kick it to the curb. Fear looks like you not moving forward with your work, speaking up or being social because of a multitude of reasons...I can't possibly list them all but oftentimes the root of the reason is lack of education...we fear what we don't know enough about. So if there's something you need to wrap your brain around before you will allow yourself the freedom of forward motion, by all means, educate yourself and/or get the help you need.Unless you're doing something unlawful, unethical or ill-advised, you have nothing to fear about writing the book you want to write, about reaching out and connecting with others who you could learn from or who could help you, about selling your books out of your trunk or at an event, about creating a social presence. Most people love good books and enjoy connecting with authors, so give them what they want (and hey, you'll benefit too!). We all love a good success story, so choose to become a success story. It begins with you. Nobody is going to get that ball rolling for you.

Please note, if there is no rational explanation for your fear, and you feel it's debilitated you to a low or non-functioning level, please seek professional medical help immediately. Sometimes it's not possible to talk or read your way through your issues and that is totally OK. Get the help you need.

2. FEAR of Failure (also rejection). Failing at anything stinks, it makes you feel lousy, worthless and small but that's just life, my dears. Who doesn't fail in this life? Read any biography and you'll find out that most everyone who ever achieved their dream failed 99% of time before they finally did what they wanted to do. The good news about failing is that you learn from failure - you learn what to do and what not to do again. The key is, not doing the stuff that helped you to fail again. (But I still see writers maintain this paradigm even though they know it's totally non-productive and not healthy...we'll get to that later when we dig into discipline as a virtue). To combat fear of failure, you need to first pin point the failures that did their best number on your self-confidence. What did it mean to fail? What were the steps that led to that particular failure? Could you have done things differently and have expected a different outcome? Could you have better prepared yourself for success? Now, this is VERY important...don't beat yourself up over your past failures. Let them go. Learn from them and move on. Remember this, it is just as easy to succeed as it is to fail. To succeed, all you need to do is adjust your course when you feel you're heading off track, get counsel when you need it and never give up. Don't let fear of failure become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

3. LACK of Resources. There's another word I dislike, "lack." But lack of resources is a big reason why people choose not to succeed. Lack of money, lack of education, lack of connections, etc. Well, it's all fixable. It just depends on how long you want to work to correct your "lack." Don't have enough money to attend conferences, go on a book tour, hire and editor or consultant to polish your work and approach to the industry? Take a look at your budget. Where does your money go? You'd be surprised by how little you actually "need" to get by. Have you whittled down your expenditures to the bare minimum and sold most of your worldly possessions to keep gas in your car and a roof over your head? Keep working. In fact, if it's that bad, get a second job. No job is beneath you if it means providing for yourself, your family and having a little extra to get the resources you need.

Don't have the connections you'd like...the ones that could actually make a difference in your writing craft and career? Time to start getting social. Make it a point to surround yourself by the most talented people you can find in your community and online. You are who you surround yourself with, so make it a point to get to know people you admire. If this girl who grew up in rural Iowa can make cold calls to overworked New York City editors at 6 am Pacific time to sell a book, you can reach out to those people you'd like to get to know better.

Sometimes money and connections are not the issue, rather it's a lack of education that's holding you back. If you have an idea for a book but are deathly afraid to write it by yourself, start researching ghost writers or someone who would be open to co-authoring your book with you. Othertimes you may feel you're an ok writer but just not to the level you'd like to be. So get the education, coaching or editorial services you need. Check out the writing programs offered through the local universities, online writers' workshops, adult learning centers, community education centers, humanities groups, etc. Check out your local library or bookstore to see if there are any industry professionals or authors scheduled to appear/speak who you could learn from and better yet, connect with! Are you writing genre specific fiction like sci-fi, romance or children's? Check out the local chapters of organizations that support education and community for those who write and read within that genre. And then there are the consultants and coaches like me and many others who will help you, too. (Hey, I have to pitch myself and my fellow coaches once in a while, you know?) Bottom line is, lack of resources can be corrected if you put your energy toward addressing the lack. Ask for help, act on tips and advice, save your money. This is a pattern you will continually follow...when you don't have what you need or want, figure out a way to get it then follow-through on the getting it!

4. LACK of Clarity. Many writers come to me unsure about the direction of their first or next book or where they want their writing career to take them...which almost always means their plots and character development are equally under-developed and blurred. I remedy this through one-on-one sessions, but you can start to gain focus by answering these basic questions:

* What genre is my book?
* Do I want to build a career within this genre?
* Does this book have series potential? How far ahead do I see this character taking the
series forward? Three books? Six? What's the story arc? What will he/she/they overcome?
* How much time can I devote to my craft?
* How much time can I devote to building my writing business once I have
something to sell?

Note, one of the questions wasn't "Which literary agent or trend can I write for?" Never write to what you think a lit agent is going to want to read and rep or to follow a trend. Write the book you want to write (caveat: and be ready to edit several times).

And then actually write down your answers as if you were creating a business plan, because that is what you're doing, eventually. You're creating a way to earn money off something you love doing. And I hope when you feel a tinge of self-doubt creep in that you look at the root and address it. Sometimes it takes a few days, some tears, some serious coming to terms and some trial and error, but the point is, discover what is holding back your Confidence and address it.

You will have good days upon good days if you act with confidence now! Even if you have to fake it once in a while.

Your action: Address your lack of self-confidence issues today by examining the root. What category does it fall under: Fear of The Unknown; Fear of Failure; Lack of Education; Lack of Clarity or a little of everything? Break this fear down to the cause and be honest with yourself. And/or what are you lacking? Once you know the root of self-doubt you can create a plan to address it and move on with your bad self!

Be CONFIDENT this week, writers! You have everything to be excited about...your road is ahead of you. Drive on!



  1. Thanks for this piece Erin. At any moment in time I might suffer any one or all of these seductive saboteurs, though they only pay a visit when the editors within or without poke their noses in; the naive creator suffers none of these challenges!

  2. Ha! Perfectionists are their own worst critics. Thanks, Cathy.

  3. Erin, there is so much in this post I can relate to! I think that fear of failure has been my biggest saboteur. When I took a graduate class this past semester (after many, many years), I was heartened to be in an environment where the professor openly encouraged everyone to succeed, not only in the class, but personally and professionally.

    "it is just as easy to succeed as it is to fail"

    I'll try to remember that. Thanks for such a supportive and informative post.

    ~ Lisa

  4. Erin,
    I caught your post here via Lisa Rivero's blog, and I'm glad I clicked over. I think, for me, the biggest is fear of the unknown, mostly when it comes to my bigger writing projects. I struggle with that question of "what if" this never goes anywhere, ignoring the fact that every piece of writing I do carries me further along. Logically, I understand that no writing is wasted, but then, fear usually doesn't have anything to do with logic.

  5. Lisa and Christi, thanks!

    Yes, I think the fear we're talking about here has little to do with logic. You can "what if" yourself right out of a productive writing career if you let that anxiety take over. How about turning that around to say, "What if I didn't follow my passion?" "What if I didn't learn to become a better writer?" "What if I didn't grow from my mistakes?" Puts it all into a very different light, yes?


Leave your thoughts! Feel free to share with us your success stories or tips.