Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

How to Find Clarity & Confidence as a Writer

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Gary Korisko. You can download a free copy of his eBook, How to Influence All the Right People,– a guide to breaking away from the herd. Check out his blog.

You’re sitting there staring at your latest piece on the computer monitor and find yourself asking, “Is this any good?”

It’s gut wrenching to have to ask yourself a question like that, isn’t it? Even more painful is to realize you honestly don’t have a good answer.

Clarity and confidence

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

It’s as if there’s a haze of doubt that clouds your vision and clogs your mind — and you just can’t see. You can’t see what’s good, what’s bad, or what you can do to fix it.

That’s a frustrating and hopeless place to be, emotionally.

Misplaced blame

The first place your mind goes is a self-critical one. You start thinking things like:

  • “I’m not as talented as other writers.”
  • “Maybe I just don’t have what it takes.”
  • “Why don’t I just quit?”

We’ve all been there, and as negative as those thoughts are, I understand why we writers buy them. Logically, when you write, it’s just you and your pen — or you and your computer.

Since pens and computers are inherently innocent, they can’t legitimately be blamed for bad writing. And if they’re not to blame, who’s left to pin it on?

Just you.

So you assume the problem is you and start to believe you’re just not good enough. But what if I told you your level of talent or potential isn’t really the problem?

Growing pains

Remember growing pains? Not the sitcom — but the pain you felt in your legs as an adolescent?

Since children grow rapidly and many of them experience pains in their legs during their heavy growth years, we naturally put two and two together and call these pains what they seem to be — growing pains.

The interesting thing about growing pains is that while many children experience them, (and the pain is very real) medical science is pretty certain they have nothing to do with growing.

As a developing blogger, you go through a similar process.

Though you know how vital it is to find your focus and your voice, putting it all together can be a long and uncomfortable process. And during uncomfortable processes, we naturally start looking for the source of discomfort.

More often than not, we blame our abilities. But attributing your struggle for confidence to a lack of talent is the same as calling adolescent achy legs “growing pains.”

It’s a misdiagnosis. The real culprit is a lack of clarity.

Welcome to Clarity Central

Call it flattery if you will, but I don’t believe you could be on a better blog to learn about finding your blog’s focus or your voice. Jeff explains both as well or better than anyone I’ve come across.

But even when we’re just starting out, we all have a sense of who we are and what we want to achieve with our writing — even if it’s only in the most general terms.

Most often, when we become confused and lack confidence, it’s because we’ve allowed ourselves to stray from our true voice or focus.

When we stray from our voice, we betray part of who we really are. Our brains take great offense to that betrayal, and the clouds of confusion roll in.

A clarity checkup

When you’re feeling confused and your confidence is waning, ask yourself these four questions as a clarity checkup:

1. What do you know?

When do we most often feel confused and full of doubt? When we don’t know what to do. Expert chefs don’t feel confused in kitchens because they are masters of that domain and have been for many years. They know exactly what to do.

Often when you’re writing and feel confused or unconfident, the culprit might be a lack of knowledge in a particular area. Maybe you haven’t pinpointed your voice or your platform. It could be that you need to study up on writing structure.

If lack of knowledge is to blame, chin up. It’s one of the easiest problems to fix. Stellar writing instruction is abundantly available on this very blog.

Learning is a process. Stick with it and you’ll eventually navigate the learning curve.

2. Are you in the right shoes?

What if your confidence is in the cellar but you’re someone who understands your voice, the technical side of writing, and building an audience? The common denominator with a more experienced writer probably isn’t lack of knowledge.

Then what is it?

Often, the cause is abandonment of what you do know. When you try to write in someone else’s voice, or project someone else’s worldview, or write in a different style to suit someone else — the clouds again roll in.

Once you’ve “become” as a writer, your brain will boycott any attempt to abandon your real identity. Consider it a dose of tough love from your mind and soul. It’s a sign something isn’t quite right.

You write your best work, with the most clarity when you’re standing in your own shoes.

3. What are you measuring yourself against?

We tend to measure our work and results against the truly elite. Measuring your work in apples-to-oranges fashion like that sets an unrealistic expectation and will almost always lead to disappointment.

Instead, measure yourself against people who are in the same place as (or even slightly ahead of) you in their development.

You know the old cliché, “Shoot for progress, not perfection?” There’s a reason it gets repeated so often: it’s great advice.

Keep practicing, strive to improve every time you write, and always shoot for that next level. Not the pinnacle just yet – but the next level.

4. Do you need to break a rule?

Recently, when I was feeling stuck and confused about structuring a piece I was writing, a writer friend of mine shared something with me that really helped me out of my funk. She said,

Take what you want and leave the rest.

Though structure is important, trying to adhere to it too strictly can create confusion and choke the “you” right out of you.

This phrase gives you permission to color outside the lines occasionally. Remember that sometimes it’s fine to skip a step or add a step to the flowchart.

As long as what you’re writing speaks to your readers and feels natural, it doesn’t matter if you break a rule here or there.

Embrace the process

Becoming a better and more confident writer is a process. It boils down to understanding who you are, setting realistic expectations, practicing, and committing to the craft.

The next time you’re feeling stuck, instead of wallowing in the frustration, take some action. Ask yourself these four questions and get busy addressing the real problem.

What about you? What undermines your confidence, and how do you get through it? Share in the comments.

About Gary Korisko

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  • “You write your best work, with the most clarity when you’re standing in your own shoes.” I love that. It reminds me of the saying do not judge someone unless you are standing in their shoes. No one can explain exactly what that feels like except the person who is living it…and YOU are the only one living your specific story!

    • Hi, Eileen.

      It’s tough to find your own shoes. And about the time you do, you grow out of them and need new ones 🙂 Plus, as we learn more and grow, we naturally start to emulate people we admire.

      There’s a fine line to walk there between learning from those people and mirroring them. It’s challenging, isn’t it?

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • life traveler

      I couldn’t agree more,Eileen..this also applies to our daily lives on how we should deal with people…have a great weekend!

      • So true. You have a great weekend too!

  • Sharon Spano

    Great post. What holds me back? I have an MFA in Creative Nonfiction, and I’ve been writing all my life. However, I’m so trained to fine tune every word and paragraph to death, that it’s difficult for me to write a blog and simply put it out there. It’s scary, right? What if you missed a fragmented sentence or a misspelled word? It’s out there for the world to see, and you feel like a moron. Thanks for the advice on coloring outside the lines. A great reminder to just go with my own voice and write what I care about.

    • I understand, Sharon. (Recovering English major here) I used to feel the exact same way.

      The nice thing about blogging is that it’s all you. It’s not corporate writing. It’s not academic writing… you can openly be yourself.

      • Sharon Spano

        Love that perspective, Gary. It takes years to find your voice, and isn’t it funny that when we do, we can still be fearful of putting it out there. Love this discussion.

        • It is a great discussion! I love when the comments take off like this 🙂

    • Sharon, I’m a born editor and suffer from the same affliction 🙂 To top that off, my blog is about writing and it’s on my editing business site. So, I have this horrible fear that any mistakes I miss will make people think I’m a horrible editor – which is ridiculous! I’ve been blogging for nine months and have finally learned that it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to come from the heart and sound like me. So liberating

      • Sharon Spano

        Thanks, Rhonda, for that encouragement. It’s particularly meaningful coming from an editor. Great to have this kind of support in the writing community. Reminds me of my MFA days. I miss being with writers. Looks like Jeff has created a forum for us all.

  • Glynis Belec

    Brilliant! “You write your best work, with the most clarity when you’re standing in your own
    shoes.” Such encouragement. Thank you for this, Jamie and Jeff. Sharing…:)

  • Audra Rogers

    Gary, this could not have come at a better time for me. As another one of 8 bazillion mom bloggers out there, I’m just starting out and I have been trying to do the upbeat, Here Are 5 Tips To Being a Stepford Wife-type of stuff and it’s just not me and it doesn’t work. Thank you! I will be checking out more of your posts!

    • That’s the thing, Audra. No one wants to read blogger number 8,742… but I’ll bet there are a lot of people out there who’d like to read what Audra thinks.

      There’s something that draws people to authenticity in writing. Jeff’s a great example of that. I’m happy you found this useful. Good luck!

  • Just in time. You caught me flopping around like a fish out of water after my last post featuring an interview with a politician lays like a dead balloon. Thanks for the needed pep talk.

  • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    A good read for me this morning Gary. I’m a relatively new blogger (1 year this month) and tend to compare my writing to bloggers who have been writing for years! I really appreciated the reminder to “measure yourself against people who are in the same place as (or even slightly ahead of) you in their development.”

    • Hi Caryn!

      I think you highlighted one of the most destructive ones. If you measure yourself against the big boys it can be really discouraging. It’s about realistic expectations and continued improvement. Best of luck to you!

      • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

        Thanks…on the hunt for those just ahead of me in this journey.

  • Minkee Robinson

    Thank you for this post. It applies to all writing, not just blogs and gives me encouragement to keep going forward instead of spinning my wheels. The advice about staying true to your own voice is something every writer needs to remember, but it truly resonates with ‘people pleasers’ like me.

    • Minkee:

      Voice is important. I used to scoff and roll my eyes at all that “voice” talk – because it all sounded so hokey to me.

      Until I started reading Jeff, that is. He understands and explains voice, platform, and worldview better than anyone I’ve seen. Completely changed my perspective.

      And you’re right – always forward, and a little better each time.

      Thanks for joining in.

      • Minkee Robinson

        I never discounted the idea of ‘voice’, I just lacked the confidence to give my voice a chance. Jeff is excellent at inspiring writers to trust that their voice is worth sharing.
        No one author appeals to every reader and no reader likes every author they read. The best advice for a writer is to stay true to yourself while remaining open to the idea of growing and improving your craft
        Now that I’ve gained that insight, I edit my work for clarity and content, rather than to supress my style.

  • life traveler

    Thank you so much for this article, Gary. It is very timely. I must say that it was Jeff,after I accidentally tumbled upon his blog one day I was off from work feeling sick, that gave me the courage to start blogging and rekindled my passion for writing.

    • You’re welcome, LT 🙂

      Glad you found it useful.

  • I believe what undermines my confidence is the fact that I write about brokenness and healing. And as I write the words I hear myself ask, “Who are you to write about this?” And then I hear myself crumple up. Later when I realize I never said I had arrived, but that I too am on the journey I go back to the screen and get on with the project. So it’s the arguments that undermine me and it’s like I said once, “I’m tired of all the arguing, and I’m the only one here. Great post Gary.

    • I know that “who am I to do this” feeling, Anne. I think we all go there from time to time. It sounds like you’ve let that roll off of you and forged ahead, though. Thanks for the nice compliment!

    • I’ve had a lot of those thoughts too, Anne. But I like your point…this is a journey of learning and I think readers like to read things from people who don’t give off the impression they have “arrived” That’s real, messy, beautiful life!

  • Ron Greenfield

    This post is really excellent and quite useful. Me likey a lot, especially at times when our “muse” is on vacation or has another appointment. What I find useful sometimes taking a walk or thinking about the subject for a few hours, but most importantly speaking in my voice, so that it’s authentic.

    • Hi, Ron. That’s a great point, too. Walking away, breaking the usual routine, or changing your environment is also a good way to press the ‘reset’ button. Thanks for sharing that!

      • Ron Greenfield

        Thank you Gary for posting. Was not familar with your site or work until Jeff G. introduced you here. Will check it out. My blog is about the entertainment industry since that is my background and often the problem I face is what to write on that has the most use for my platform, especially those just beginning. There is such an abundance of material to draw form and sometimes I do not have enough time to write all that I want to. If you have the opportunity please check out my site, aspectsofentertainment.com which is always a work in progress. Ron

  • Misty Malott Ross

    GREAT article! What if the problem is more about being overwhelmed. So many stories, where do you start?

    • Thanks, Misty 🙂

      I’ll tell you what I do when I have too many ideas – and then I’ll be interested to see what Jeff and/or everyone else has to say about it, too.

      If I have too many thoughts or ideas and feel jammed up… first I write them down so I don’t forget them. Then, I find getting away helps. I’ll go exercise or do something other than trying to write.

      With information and chatter being so abundant these days, it’s easy to get information overload. For me – unplugging, taking a break, and slowing down helps. It allows me to clear my mind and start fresh another time.

      • Misty Malott Ross

        Thank you! That is really helpful! The writing things down I am good at because I don’t want to lose the ideas. Perhaps I am just a little hard on myself sometimes too. I think good stories sometimes have to sit with you for awhile before they can be articulated in a meaningful way.

        • Absolutely. I’ve sat on half-written blog posts for months before the way to make them “work” finally came to me. Sometimes things need to percolate 🙂 Good luck, Misty.

  • Alice Kouzmenko

    Great post! I am very self critical, and I am always so hard on myself. I constantly beat myself up over my writing, and I think that all I can really do is push through and keep at it, and then edit later. It has started to work for me, because, that way, I can just forget about how bad I think something is and just go through with it, and try and fix it up later. It often ends up improving.


    • Alice… I hear you. And I understand completely. My advice is to start reading here on Jeff’s site. Really… start with this post and go backward as far as you have time to go.

      Jeff has a way of explaining the writing process that will put you at ease and give you confidence. It’s not so lonely and intimidating once you realize that everyone goes through these things.

      Just shoot for “better” every time.

      Thank you for sharing that. I’m glad you found the post useful.

  • Hmm. Those three questions at the beginning pretty much sum up every day of my life. 😀 I know it’s not constructive, and I continue to working through it… with selfish hopes of recognition I admit. (I read the manifesto.)

    I guess we’ll find out what happens…

    • Ragnar:

      Recognition is an odd thing. It’s a lot like romance or career success in that when you stop chasing it, it tends to find you. 🙂

      You seem very self-aware. And that’s a huge step in the right direction. Thanks for the comment & best of luck to you!

  • Sophie Lizard

    As a freelance writer, I spend a LOT of time wearing other people’s shoes. Sometimes it’s hard to take them off after work – but just like losing my boots in the real world, once I stop thinking about it my voice reappears. 🙂

    • Hey, Sophie. That’s a great point. The freelance perspective is different, isn’t it? I’m guessing switching between who you are outside freelancing and who you are when representing your clients probably takes some conscious effort on your part.

      Good to see you here!

  • Great post. Thank you for this post. It applies to all writing, not just blogs and
    gives me encouragement to keep going forward instead of spinning my

    • Traction beats wheel-spinning any day, Para. You’re welcome & I’m really glad you found it actionable!

  • Dawn Muench

    Absolutely great post! Great!!

  • Great post, Gary! I completely agree that it’s so easy to put someone else’s shoes on when your own shoes might feel a little uncomfortable or scary. Thanks for the clarity!

    • Right, Bobbi. Especially when you’re just starting to come into your own – it’s so easy to subconsciously travel in the wake of those who you admire instead of finding your own way. But as you well know – that discomfort is taking you somewhere good, so we need to learn to let it happen.

      Great comment!

  • Laura Leigh Clarke

    Hey Gary – very heart-felt advice. Love the way you break down how to return to what you know so you can really start to write great stuff. Love it! 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Laura. Sometimes you just need to get out of your own way, right? Glad you enjoyed it.

  • two juegos

    I am not a writer. I do not have words to express, not talented in literature. but I always wanted to become a writer, it’s my dream

  • Yoshiko

    Packed with great advice, thanks, Gary.

    I’m not a writer, but I believe having clarity is applicable to other endeavors too.
    I really like “Take what you want and leave the rest.” We’re so busy and overloaded every day so we’d need to be attentive and mindful to reducing mental junk once in a while. That’ll surely help to have the clarity. “Shoot for progress, not perfection” resonates with me as I try to gauge my progress against my past self rather than other people.

    • Reducing the mental junk is big, Yoshiko. At least it is for me. I’m glad you found the post useful & thank you for joining in!

  • Susan Sage

    Being a “newbie” brings a lack of confidence. What improves that is the realization that every time I begin to struggle against something or feel like I’m not making progress, God sends a blog (like this one) or a verse or devotional that speaks to exactly where I need a boost.
    I’m thinking if I kept my confidence more in Him and not me, I’d be better off and less likely to have the enemies attacks make headway.
    blessings and thanks,
    Susan Sage

    • Great thoughts, Susan. Also consider that sometimes the struggle is the very thing that allows you to make leaps forward. Kind of like ‘growing pains.’ Thank you for sharing that.

  • Melanie Fischer

    Great post! Thank you so much for the insight!

  • Sue Neal

    Hi – I think your point about who or what you’re measuring yourself against is often a problem – it certainly has been for me. It’s only since I decided to “just write” and quit worrying about the fact that I’d never be as good as such-and-such a writer or blogger, that I’ve really started to make progress.

    I think it’s easy to get disheartened when you read other stuff that’s way, way beyond your own capabilities – because then you lose sight of the fact that you’re unique and have something to say that no-one else can, if you’ll only get down to work and develop your craft. When you stop worrying about living up to other people’s impossible standards, you can relax and release the tension that’s probably inhibiting your output.

    I also love your point about breaking rules – as long as we know what we’re breaking them for. I think we need to know and understand the rules in the first place, or there’s a danger we just end up making a mess.

    • Hello, Sue.

      What great insights. I’m applauding you. You’ll have to take my word for it, but it’s true 🙂 Thanks!

  • Georgeann Van Delist

    Wow, so helpful! As a brand new blogger, I am still trying to discover my voice. I know what I want to say, but it doesn’t always sound like me. I am going to print this article because I am certain I will need to refer to it again and again. Love this site!

    • Thank you, Georgeann. I’m honored you’re saving the post : )

      And yeah – you picked an *excellent* blog to learn from. Good luck to you!

  • Anca Dumitru

    Thank your for writing this post, Gary. I needed that today.

    • Thank you, Anca. Nice to see you again 🙂

      I’m glad it helped you!

  • MT McClanahan

    It is always fascinating to me how the arts interrelate–all creative endeavors. I write about this quite a bit on my blog, and you made it very clear. I’m an artist/painter and I find that my results are directly related to the degree of “clarity” in my intent. In other words, I must have something to say to begin with, and then keep this in the forefront of my mind while I’m working.

    • That is interesting. Maybe the equivalents are the tone and language – or the shape of the narrative. Regardless, you’ve pointed out an excellent parallel.

      Great observation, MT. Thanks for sharing it!

  • Hi Gary,

    Some great advice here and so much of it I can relate to.

    I think your point about measuring ourselves against others is dangerous. You can’t be yourself or have your own voice doing that. Yet we sometimes do because we want to be sure we measure up. Writing is an art and art is unique or at least it should be. Our uniqueness is what make us who we are.

    The problem comes in when we are not comfortable with our uniqueness or we don’t have confidence that what we are or who we are is good enough. There can be a lot of psychology going on there but those can be hard bonds to break out of.

    But it’s a process like you say and as long as we don’t give up and stick with it chances are we can eventually find clarity and confidence.


    • Thanks for sharing that, Liz. I’m with you regarding what you said about uniqueness. Somewhere between learning from the work of others and a confidence level that is just starting to grow – it’s easy to overlook what’s unique about ourselves.

      Thanks again!