Be a More Confident Writer: 5 Choices That Might Be Hurting Instead of Helping

PhotobucketTherese 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.

The Problem

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.

The Solution

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?

The Problem

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.

The Solution

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?

The Problem

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.

The Solution

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.

The Problem

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 Solution

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.

The Problem

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 Solution

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.

The Take-Away

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?

Readers, you can learn more about Annie on her website/blog here, and by following her on Twitter. Write on!

Photo courtesy Flickr’s SweetOnVeg


About Annie Neugebauer

Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) is a novelist, short story author, and award-winning poet with stories and poems appearing or forthcoming in over fifty venues, including Black Static, Deep South Magazine, Fireside, and Buzzy Mag. She's an active member of the Horror Writers Association and webmaster for the Poetry Society of Texas. When Annie’s not frightening strangers with her writing, she’s most likely frightening her husband and their two cats, Buttons and Snaps.


  1. Vaughn Roycroft says

    I’m good with numbers 2 and 5. The rest, not so much. After many years of considering myself a writer, first and foremost, I still struggle with number one. I go through periods where I can make myself do it, then I stop. It ebbs and flows with my tenous self-esteem, I guess. Since my wife is our household’s primary income provider, I tend to shy away from the proclamation with people who know her professionally or through her community involvement (which is a lot of folks, so it happens a lot). Thanks for the reminder that it’s on me. Great post!

  2. says

    Writer Unboxed, thank you so much for hosting me! I just got back from a writing retreat, and this was a lovely homecoming. I’m honored to be included. =)

    @Alex: I am so glad the information is useful to you. Thanks for commenting!

    @Vaughn: Everyone struggles with these things (which is why I wrote the post!), so don’t be too hard on yourself. As long as you’re aware of the issue and willing to help yourself, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Thank you for sharing, and good luck!

  3. says

    What a lovely, thought-out post! I try very hard to be positive, but it is dang hard sometimes! I do pretty good with one, two and five, thanks to a supportive spouse. Just this summer I found a way to begin defeating the green-eyed monster by making my mantra “Patience. My path is not their path, I can be happy for them.”

    That leaves setting my sights too high, or at least accepting where I am at, as the biggest hit to my self-esteem. I got a rejection just last night and the self-doubt started in. And then, when I was looking for another place to submit the story, I found myself looking at those top venues and being discouraged. Having permission to submit and enjoy being printed wherever I can find an audience is just what I needed to hear today. Thanks!

  4. says

    Dear Anne, thank you! There are only a hand full of people whom know I’m a writer, but that will begin to change after reading your list of FIVE :) After my first rejection letter some 20 years ago, it took years before I came back to writing. Recently I received my 2nd rejection letter and am proud to say that I sent another query letter out for the same manuscript the same day. I so appreciate the wonderful advice you’ve shared in your post; again thank you!

  5. says

    Love this, thanks. I found the chutzpah to call myself a writer, instead of a lawyer or headhunter who’s trying to write, when I saw the first copy of The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken.
    It was a liberating moment.

  6. says

    @Lara: I love hearing that! So glad my post could help you feel free to do what you needed to do. Good for you, and good luck!

    @Rose: Rejection can be incredibly discouraging. I have another mantra just for that: “It’s not personal.” It might be hard to believe at first, but it really isn’t. These agents don’t know you, they only know your query or a little bit of your book. So keep at it! And thank you for commenting.

    @Mari: It is liberating; that’s a good word for it. I’m glad you’ve found your footing. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. says

    Dear Annie, *Big Smile*
    That just has to be said. Beg pardon.

    I am truly my own worst enemy. I know well the lack of respect I feel and show my writing, also serves as my comfort in that tight little box I like to hide away in, with my thumb in my mouth.

    Your thoughts and suggestions here serve as excellent advice to always remember, *I have a choice*. I can either pretend I am a writer. Or, I can stand up and be counted. It is a simple as that.

    My husband, a great supporter, surprised me one day last summer by introducing me and my insecurities to the world. To put it bluntly, he outed me, when he told an acquaintance of ours, “My wife is a writer. Oh, and she’s writing her first novel. You should ask her about it.”

    You could have heard a pin drop in the deep cavern that was my heart and soul that day, as my eyes bugged and my mouth stood agape. I had never said that out loud to anyone and had no future plans of revealing such a thing.

    Such a thing, would require me to actually stand up to my own personal demons and Do Something… Anything that resembles Something!

    So, no more excuses. I can no longer use my Family, my Other responsibilities or my Own failings, as the whipping post for my fragile insecurities. Time to man up!

    Thank you for this much needed push this morning! Between yours and Sarah Callender’s thoughtful suggestions, I do believe I have found the strength for a Do Over.


  8. says

    I say I’m a writer all the time–because I do write for a living. But I never tell people about the novel sitting in the dusty corner of my hard drive. I tell them about the case studies and peer reviewed journal articles I write for my day job. I wish I could muster the courage to talk about my fiction writing to anyone but my husband, but I haven’t harnessed it yet.

  9. says

    @Scarlett: Absolutely! ‘Choice’ is the most important word; it means there is the potential for change. If you want a do-over, it’s all yours. May the force be with you. =)

    @N.M.: Thank you! Yes, respect. Absolutely. The way we view ourselves skews how others will see us, so we should always give ourselves the credit we deserve. ;)

    @Mary: It seems so overwhelming in the beginning, I know. Why not try starting small and working your way up? You could take it one of two ways: 1) Try telling a total stranger that you’ll never see again (I mean, who cares what the cashier/mailman/receptionist thinks of it?). Or 2) tell someone who loves you too much to judge, like a parent, sibling, spouse, or best friend. Once you start getting positive reactions from them, it will be easier to tell others.

  10. says

    Wonderful, wonderful tips for beginning writers! It took me a long time to come by these practices the hard way. Hopefully others will heed your advice sooner rather than later.

  11. says

    All good tips. I shared on Facebook with my writer pals in Redwood Writers Club.

    Number three is something one of my friends keeps doing. Having an MFA and aiming at top-tier publications keeps his amazing, skillful, wickedly funny stories full of fascinating characters slammed with rejection. His short fiction stays out of circulation. He does have half a dozen stories published, nonfiction credits and now a nonfiction book contract.

    I wish I could humbly suggest he consider a less punishing approach. Any ideas as to how to say this? I don’t want to upset him, he’s too wonderful, proud (and a sensitive a guy).

  12. says

    Thanks for this post. It hit the mark for me. It’s hard to feel authentic unless you take yourself seriously–and that’s a catch-22.

    I’ve been telling people I’m a writer, and writing, and have a desk, and slowly, it’s starting to feel real.

  13. says

    I am really loving reading these comments! Thank you all so much for responding, sharing your experiences, and spreading the word. Deborah brought it to my attention that the link from here to my Twitter doesn’t work. Woops! You can follow me @AnnieNeugebauer. I’d love to see you guys on there; I am always looking for more writers to follow! =D

    @Charlotte: Thank you! Glad you liked it.

    @Amanda: Yay! Perfect timing then. =)

    @Kristan: I agree; I’ve earned these lessons the hard way as well. But giving others a leg up was the reason I wrote this post!

    @Deborah: Thank you so much for sharing this post with your writing friends, and for stopping by my blog. I really appreciate that.

    And as for your MFA friend… unfortunately, I really don’t think there’s much you can do. If you were really, really close with him, you probably would have ventured the option by now; but since you haven’t, it probably would be a little awkward. If he’s not receptive to the idea, it will seem like an insult, which of course you do not want.

    The best option here is for you to post a link to this blog post somewhere where he will definitely see it. If he reads it and the choice rings true: mission accomplished. If not… I’m afraid that might be a lesson he has to learn the hard way. =/ He will either learn to try new publication venues, or he will keep submitting until his writing improves to the point of acceptance at the current ones.

    You’re obviously a good friend. You’re doing all you can by supporting him when he gets those tough rejection letters, so keep it up. And thank you so much for commenting.

    @Hope: This really is one of those “fake it ‘till you make it” situations – a catch 22 indeed. I’m glad it’s starting to feel real. Good for you!

  14. says

    This is an excellent post; truly inspirational! I am still struggling with number 1, though I’m okay with the others. Will tweet this one – I’m maryj59 on twitter.

    Here from Jon Gibbs’s livejournal, btw.

    • says

      Boy am I ever late replying! I guess I should have checked this post one more time before it got swept into the archives. :-) But it was nice to see that I might have brightened your day a bit back then. Thanks for the comment, Lisa.