Therese here. Today’s guest is Annie Neugebauer, who’s here to talk about how to be a more confident writer. Annie is an award-winning poet, and a writer of short stories and novel-length works. Her writing has appeared in–or will soon in appear in–the following publications and venues: Underneath the Juniper Tree, The Spirit of Poe, So Long and Thanks For All the Brains: A Zombie Anthology, Six Sentences, the British Fantasy Society journal Dark Horizons, and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies’ prize anthology Encore. Take it away, Annie!
Be a More Confident Writer: 5 Choices That Might Be Hurting Instead of Helping
A writer’s self-esteem is a valuable, tenuous thing. That comes with the trade. In a field of work that’s bursting with advice, rejections, and critique, how can anyone avoid occasional self-doubt?
I’m not here to make you immune to negative thoughts. (Hey, I’m not a magician.) But I am here to point out some of the problems that might be gnawing at the edges of your belief in yourself, your career, and your talent. Here are five things that can be detrimental to a writer’s sense of self, plus why and how to avoid them.
Choice #1: Not Telling People you’re a Writer
Someone asks, “So what do you do?” and you give evasions – or your day job. We tend to think things like, They’ll think I’m deluded, and I’m not published yet; it’s too embarrassing to admit.
In most cases, it’s not the people asking you the questions that are putting you down: it’s you. You are assuming that they will think the worst. By allowing these assumptions to control your actions, you are giving them power. You are convincing yourself that your profession isn’t legitimate.
Writing is a profession, even if you’re not being paid yet. It is a legitimate goal and career choice. Don’t buy into that fear. When people ask what you do, tell them you’re a writer. It might feel awkward and forced at first, but trust me, the pride will come.
Choice #2: Not Writing on a Regular Basis
You have four kids, a spouse, five dogs, eight cats, three horses, a pet pig, and a turtle. Not to mention that you work three jobs, support your ailing parents, and struggle with chronic health problems. Who has time to write among all of that?
Guilt is a negative emotion. Guilt, in fact, is a secondary emotion, because it serves little good past the initial reminder that we’re doing something we don’t respect. If you succeed in #1, you need to live that statement. You cannot say, “I’m a writer,” with any sense of respect unless you do, in fact, pursue writing to the best of your ability.
I’m not talking arguments of working 365 days a year, word count goals, or quitting day jobs. I’m talking any level of commitment, whatever that might be, and fulfilling it by sitting down to write – even if it’s just working three hours every Saturday and Sunday and attending one conference a year. If done with gusto, this should make #1 look a lot less scary.
Choice #3: Aiming Too High Too Often
You want to be accepted to the best places that will publish you. Why not submit top-down?
Consistently submitting to top-notch publications is admirable, but if you’re not quite there yet, it can also be painful. No one can withstand solid rejection letters forever – at least not without becoming bitter.
Sacrifice some of your work on the altar of “building a name,” and allow yourself the joy of some acceptance letters. There’s no shame in submitting to a lower tier of publication so you can work your way up. And it just feels so good to see your work in print. Think of it as a rewards system.
Choice #4: Measuring Yourself against the Success of Others
While Twitter, Facebook, and industry blogs are great for networking, sometimes they can become a giant brag-box of people signing with agents, selling books, winning awards, and being accepted at the exact places you’ve been rejected. It can become Hurt Soup. No one likes to hear that a person thirty years younger made the Bestsellers List when he/she has been struggling just to get a short story published. It hurts, and that’s normal.
What’s not helpful is beating yourself up about it. This is perhaps the hardest mistake to change, because it’s so deep-rooted. We have an innate desire to compare ourselves to others, and when we have achieved less, we feel inadequate.
The best way to beat negative programming is to replace it with positive programming. Other people’s achievements don’t make your achievements less valid. It’s hard to remember that. In times like these, make this your mantra: “The success of others is not my failure.” Rinse. Repeat. Believe.
Choice #5: Not Giving Yourself a Workspace
Now this is a tricky one, and I can already hear cries of outrage. I know that not everyone has enough money for their own computer, desk, and office.
But here’s the deal: If you’re trying to learn to believe that this is a legitimate job, your heart is not going to buy it if you don’t have a legitimate office. That is truth.
The good news is that you don’t have to rent an apartment in the business district to make this come true. You don’t even have to sacrifice an entire room in your home. Workspaces aren’t just about walls; they are also about time, solitude, and respect. Set up a place that you can go to write at designated times. Preferably one that has a door you can close – or at least a great pair of headphones. And the space must be comfortable enough so that you can fulfill choice #2. If you have to, put up a sign that says, WORKING: DO NOT DISTURB. Talk to housemates about your need for quiet and boundaries during this time. Enforce it.
Now you can see that when it comes to being a writer, self-esteem isn’t just about having thousands of followers on Twitter or winning a Pulitzer Prize. It’s truly more about your own self, the way you see things, and the choices you make in regards to this career you’ve chosen. You are, after all, A Real Writer. To gain the respect of others, you must first gain the respect of yourself.
Do you ever catch yourself in self-defeating behaviors and self-talk? How do you talk yourself out of it?
Photo courtesy Flickr’s SweetOnVeg