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.
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.
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?
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?
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.