It goes a little like this.
You’re excited about your ideas and writing, you get half-way through your work and then you stop and wonder…
Will people really care about what I’ve got to say? How will this pay my bills anyway? What if I’m wasting my time?
As you think about it, your lack of self-belief paralyses you.
So, you stop writing. You decide against publishing, against telling people about your writing, against submitting your work and even finishing your book.
I get it.
Two years ago, I committed to publishing one blog post a week and to sending that blog post to subscribers of my insider list.
I try to do this every Thursday. And yet when Thursday morning comes around, I inevitably think of a reason not to press publish, not to press send.
You’re wasting your time Bryan. Nobody will read this. Your ideas are half-baked and you’ve told all the wrong stories.
It doesn’t help that writing often means getting comfortable with failure.
When I press publish, when I press send, it’s a minor victory.
So, here’s the thing:
Self-belief is something writers of all levels struggle with during their careers. All you have to do is learn how to gain confidence as a writer.
Franz Kafka Didn’t Believe in Himself, I Want You To Believe in Yourself
Franz Kafka — chronic self-doubter
Born in 1883 in Prague, Franz Kafka worked a day job in insurance until tuberculosis forced him to retire in 1922.
Before and after he retired, he wrote in obscurity in Berlin and Prague.
While living in Prague, he published The Metamorphosis, to no great acclaim.
He also wrote several other books and stories, but he didn’t believe in their merit. After all this was a man who said:
“Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.”
Kafka, a man of poor health, knew he wouldn’t live long and he told his friend Max Brod to destroy his writings after his death.
When Kafka died in 1924, Brod read through Kafka’s papers and decided to ignore his old friend’s request. Brod believed in his friend’s writing… even if Kafka didn’t.
The following year, Max published The Trial. It’s a short dark novel about a man locked in a hopeless court system.
Afterwards, Max published The Castle. This novel is about a protagonist fighting against the authorities ruling over a village.
Over the following years, Kafka’s writing became popular in Eastern, communist Europe. Today, he is seen as one of the literary heavyweights of the 19th century.
Not bad for a man who didn’t believe in himself.
So you see it’s normal to lack self-belief; the trick is to handle it so you can learn how to gain confidence as a writer.
Put On Your Lifejacket
Perhaps you want to reach people with your ideas and words? Perhaps you have a story you must tell? Or you have a book inside you that you’re tired of talking about because it must come out.
Whatever your reason, write down five to ten reasons why you started writing in the first place.
Do it in a journal, on the back of a notepad or dictate them into your phone. Act like a shrink, if you must.
Be grateful for the opportunity to play with words. Or be ambitious for your writing. Or be excited about what you’re capable of.
Your why is your lifejacket when the stormy waters of self-doubt threaten to pull you under.
Because when you commit to your work, and you know why it matters… you’ll develop the mental strength it takes to silence that negative inner-monologue.
Stop With the Comparisonitis
It’s not polite to talk about jealousy but…
As much as I love writers like Franz Kafka, I cower in the shadows of their natural talents, beneath the towering ambition of the works.
I sometimes compare their accomplishments to my own, and I reach a standstill with my writing.
Even when I think of more contemporary writers, their popularity is enough for me to question what I’m attempting.
I have to remind myself what I’m looking at is the summit of their public successes and not all the private failures nobody hears about.
Know that when you compare yourself to successful writers, all you see is what you lack and not how far you’ve come.
This brings me to…
Find Peace in Every Small Step
Every writer is at a different stage along their journey.
A small step for you could be finishing your first short story. Or it could be something as simple as writing 500 words a day for 31 days. Or it could be self-publishing your first book.
And so on.
Recognise these small steps for what they are, steps towards a larger goal, steps that will help you gain confidence as a writer.
So, review how far you’ve come over the past month, three months, the past year and even the past four years.
A journal is an ideal place to mark your progress, accomplishments and setbacks.
Use Your Lack of Self-belief as Fuel
If you only write about your successes and how well things are going, your readers won’t be able to stomach this sanitised version of your ideas.
We want to hear the grubby details.
So the next time something goes wrong or when you fail and wonder if you’ve still got it, pause.
Consider what went wrong and ask yourself How can I turn this private failure into fuel for my writing?
Franz Kafka suffered from anxiety, depression and ill-health throughout his life, and he drew on these experiences for his writing.
In The Metamorphosis, his protagonist Gregor Samsa says:
“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”
That’s an insight that could have only come from Kafka’s inner-struggles.
So, bleed into it. Because it’s all material. Because it all counts.
Gain Confidence In Yourself
Franz Kafka’s writings only found a rightful audience after he died.
Now, I wouldn’t like for you to wait that long before you find success with your writing.
Thankfully today, you can easily share your writing and ideas with the world. You don’t need a patron like Max Brod or a wealth of resources.
You can practice. You can blog. You can self-publish. You can write on Medium once a week.
You can get your ideas out into the world and if you are committed, you’ll see you already have everything you need.
All you have to do is to be brave enough to recognise a lack of self-belief what it is. A marker on your journey towards becoming an accomplished writer.
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