We’re often asked about confidence: how to find it and write with it. Here we bring together a selection of techniques – from the thinking to the doing – to help you find your footing when you need it most.
accepting your writing is worth it – it makes the process less painful, wastes less time, builds conviction, even desire, to write more.
When talking to people about writing, their faces often freeze over, a reaction half caught between politeness and fear. I’m one of these people – the ones that looked stunned. Having confidence in your writing is a battle hard fought. But accepting your writing is worth it – it makes the process less painful, wastes less time, builds conviction, even desire, to write more. Most of all it gives you a fairer sense of judgement about your own work.
So how do you tap in to your confidence?
There are no short cuts; and there, I’ve said it. But don’t let that dissuade you. Anything good in life is worth working at.
Before I share some techniques we use, I’d like to tell you a story of how I came to write this blog. As a somewhat anxious writer myself, I drew a bit of a blank about how to approach it. Having hit a wall on a dreary Thursday afternoon, I decided it was time to go home and it happened that I was cycling that day. As I peddled up one of the many hills around Wimbledon, I came to a realisation that my feelings about writing were like my attitude when I first started cycling.
I’m a nervous cyclist. In life I’ll generally give way to other people, and this how I am on the road too. A few years ago I bought my first bike, Hercules, and one day two friends took me out and we cycled from Tooting to Richmond park. I can honestly say I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it right up to the point they gently nudged me on to a four lane roundabout.
Fast forward a few years, I now cycle to my desk in Brixton. This time, I decided to go at my own pace. I took test cycles in the park; methodically mapped my route; left early to avoid traffic. I bought a bike – Darwin* – because it fit me, not because it was what other people said I should have.
How does this relate to writing?
Building confidence in writing takes practice, preparation, and time. It is an incremental process; no one produces the final draft in the first draft.
The theory is one and the same, if not very similar. Building confidence in writing takes practice, preparation, and time. It is an incremental process; no one produces the final draft in the first draft. When Ernest Hemingway was asked by an interviewer from The Paris Review why he re-wrote the ending to Farewell in Arms 39 times, he replied he had been stumped by ‘getting the words right’.
This question about confidence comes up a lot during our work. And whilst there are no short cuts, there are ways in which you can make strides purposefully toward being confident in your writing and trusting your voice. Here are some prompts and techniques to try next time you need a little boost.
What’s the point?
To keep motivated, remind yourself of the reason you are writing in the first place. Not only will this keep you on track, it will help connect the practicalities of what you need to say (the mind) with why you need to say it (the heart) for both reader and writer.
For many of us there will be triggers that cause us to feel particularly vulnerable when writing: perhaps this is when you submit a piece of work for feedback or peer review, or when presenting or publishing. Rather than shy away from your triggers, acknowledge them. Understanding the situations that cause you to lose confidence will enable you to find ways to address it, putting you back in the driving seat.
Writing’s not your thing
Is it anyone’s thing? It’s one of the essential ways you connect with others. You don’t have to aspire to be an author, it’s just about the connection; sharing your opinion, facts, reasoning, or whatever it is, with another. In this way, writing is really about how you connect with your audience in a way that is uniquely yours.
Take ownership of your process
We each approach writing in our own way, and knowing how best you write is essential. Create the conditions that will help: consider the time of day, where you write, what you write on and with, music or silence, coffee or tea. Where possible, go at your own speed.
Write. Pause. Edit
Time is a luxury, but where you have it, use it. Take time between writing and editing. What sounded fantastic at 11pm might not be how you want to frame it the next day. Taking time allows you to build confidence that you have purposefully thought through how you want to position what you need to say, and say it in a way that is true to you.
Push the boundaries, even slightly, because this is where your writing will grow.
How you write an email will be different to how you write an abstract, or a proposal or application. Of all the places where you need write, identify one where you are most comfortable. Where possible (and relevant), experiment with how you use your voice in this area. Push the boundaries, even slightly, because this is where your writing will grow.
Find a trusted friend
For bigger or more complex pieces of work, find a trusted friend to read it. Someone in your field will give you insight into the detail of your ideas and how you present them, and someone removed from your work will be able to see how it connects to you, as a person; whether you are ‘writing it right’.
This was something I learnt from a colleague of mine. Whenever she’d receive an email thanking her for a piece of work, or giving good feedback, she would save it in a folder and revisit them from time to time. The same lesson can be applied to your writing. Remember your accomplishments. Save them, reflect on them. Believe them.
* I chose to name my bike Darwin after discovering that Charles Darwin also took life at his own pace, taking over 20 years to publish On the Origin of Species.
 Back, Les. 2014. Journeying Through words: Les Back reflects on writing with Thomas Yarrow. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 20, pp. 766-770
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