When I ask people what stops them from writing, the first thing they say is always time. Which I handled already over a five-post series, which was then made into this book.
However, the people who have enough time to write tell me what stops them is low confidence. I hesitated to address this for a long time, because as anyone who has met me in person knows, I am a confident person. I have been since I was a very small child. So, I feel a little like me telling you how to be confident, is like a trust fund kid telling you how to be rich.
You can't just go back and be born confident, anymore than you can go back and be born to rich parents. The problem with anyone who has a natural talent is they don't know how they do it, they just do.
Nonetheless, I am going to talk about confidence anyway. Because I see a lot of things insecure people do, which they don't notice, because they're too busy being insecure.
The Biggest Difference Between Me And Insecure Writers:
There is one huge difference I always notice between myself and insecure writers, and that is research and information.
I decided I wanted to be an author when I was thirteen and the first thing I did was go to the library and borrow every book they had on writing. Including all the books on writing scripts, poetry and children's books. There was about thirty of them, and I read every single one of them, cover to cover.
The next thing I did was research all the publishers who were near me, and I had my mother call the closest one—a small indie press place—to ask if I could visit. They were having a workshop about a month later, and I went to that. Everyone else was over 45. I was, as I said, 13.
I had no interest in studying creative writing at university or TAFE, however I signed up to a lot of newsletters from libraries, writing groups, publishing houses and local council initiatives, and I went to all the free or cheap workshops, seminars and classes I could.
All of them.
By the time I was 20, most of the material in them was old news to me. However, we moved a lot, and in each new area I would join all the new mailing lists, go to all the classes, and read any new books on publishing at the new library. Even though I might only gain one tiny new bit of information from each one, and most of it was stuff I already knew.
Alex Adsett, the literary agent, does a great talk on contracts and copyright. I've seen it four times. She's banned me from coming again, but in truth, I would happily keep going and probably keep picking up new information each time. A new question asked by someone in the audience, an update to a law or a new court case that changed things slightly. That is valuable stuff to me.
I am signed up to about six newsletters that deliver bulk links on publishing news, writing tips and writing competitions 1-3 times a week. I follow about a dozen blogs that do the same. I spent probably about an hour a day, staying up to date with industry news and writing tips.
It's very easy for me to feel confident talking about writing, and the act of writing itself, because I know a lot about it. I know all the advice back to front, I know what publishers a looking for, I know publishing isn't just 'luck' as everyone says, but a set of skills that need to be developed. I know what those skills are. I know how to develop them.
As the industry evolves, I am on top of changes. I never feel left behind. I am secure in my knowledge. And I know there are thousands of people who know much more than me: authors, editors, agents, marketing personal, for me to continue to learn new things from. I have never, not even once, deluded myself into thinking I know 'enough'. I will never know enough, because some of what I knew yesterday is now obsolete. And even if publishing was static, there is still too much to know for a single person to learn in their lifetime.
I am confident not only in what I know, but that I will never know everything. And that excites me. I enjoy learning new things about writing and publishing every day.
"But I Look At The Page And Feel Existential Dread!" You Say.
Or 'I worry I'll never be good enough!' or 'I worry people are going to think my stories are stupid!'.
Well, you probably wouldn't worry people were going to think your book was stupid, if you knew how big the market for that sort of story was. There's a market for white supremacist bigfoot porn. It's not big, but it's there. So, there is probably a market for whatever you are writing. However, if you have no idea what that market size is, how to find it, how to market it, where to sell it, or what your earnings will be when you do, then, yeah, that's pretty scary.
Or maybe your goal is traditional, commercial publishing and you aren't skilled enough to write at that level yet. You don't know how to identify the problems in your writing, you don't know how to fix them when you have identified them. Also scary.
The problem, as near as I can tell, is not the lack of confidence, but the lack of information.
If you knew exactly how to edit your manuscript to be a best seller, then how to write a query letter that would attract an offer from the world's best publisher, would you still lack confidence? Or would you be eager to get started?
You're Going To Fail. Welcome The Club. It's Called 'Everyone'.
When you read a certain motivational genre, they tend to tell you, you should act as if you can't fail. They ask, what would you do tomorrow if you knew you would succeed? Ask out that person you like? Start your own business? Open an orphanage?
You know what is really shitty advice? Telling people who know jack shit about running an orphanage to go open an orphanage.
Pro tip: You're going to fail. The first few times, you're going to get it wrong. Particularly in writing and publishing.
However, the information you need to succeed is readily available online. Its available at your library. Its available in free classes and workshops. Just go and read it. Take notes. Ask questions.
The first book I wrote for Harlequin I KNEW would sell to them. I researched what they were publishing by reading all their new titles that year, I looked at their submission calls, I followed the blogs of their editors. I had zero doubt they would buy my book. And they did. Of course they did. Because I tailored it to their needs and the market.
I'd racked up a hell of a lot of rejections for other titles first.
So remember, you're not lacking in confidence because you're a bad writer.
You're lacking in confidence because you don't know how to be a better writer.
I assume. What do I know? I used to force strangers to listen to my stories when I was three. I was very pushy for someone yet to master colouring inside the lines.
Tune in this week for part two of this series, which includes my tips on marketing and promoting yourself while your confidence is busy rolling around in the gutter with my sense of propriety.
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