I’ve been hearing this over and over again from writer friends and clients: some believe they’re handicapped because they don’t have confidence. Without it, they say, they are floundering in their writing careers. I don’t think confidence is required.
On Dictionary.com confidence is described these ways:
1. full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing
2. belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance
3. certitude; assurance
To my mind, confidence involves a grand vision of one’s capability and inevitable success. The definition says “belief in…one’s powers”. It suggests a knowledge that you can do what needs to be done. I think of superheroes and action movie stars who shout “Let’s do this!” – and believe, wholeheartedly that this (whatever it is) can be done.
That’s not my experience as a writer.
In my work writing plays and TV scripts, pitches, short stories and even pieces like this one, I approach writing with deep humility. Can I put words together? Yes. Have I done it for a long time? Yes. Do I know with certainty that this piece of writing is going to come out the way I envision it? Absolutely not.
There’s no heroic boldness in my writing life. I may choose wild subjects or off-beat topics – I may be bold in that way, but I don’t consider that “confidence”. Most of the time I step into writing with the philosophy of a scientist. I think, “Let’s see what happens”. And I write to find out. I’m well aware that even though I’ve written things in the past that “worked” (whatever that means) that doesn’t mean the next piece is going to “work”. I’ve attempted to write pieces that I couldn’t crack. Some of that work I’ve tossed aside because it wasn’t what I wanted. Some of the work I pushed along as best I could and then put it out in the world anyway. There are no guarantees. Yes, I can put words together. But, for me, being an artist is about knowing that the experiment continues. I have to roll the dice and let go of the outcome. I’m required to be in it moment by moment, without some idea that what will emerge will be out of the ordinary. This attitude may not be the same thing as predicting disaster, but I certainly don’t see it as confidence.
If confidence isn’t required for being a writer, then what is?
Faith. The dictionary zeroes in on my sense of that word in this definition: Belief that is not based on proof.
Since each piece of writing is new (new genre, new subject, new characters) I think faith is the way to approach. How can I be sure something I’ve never written before will turn out well? I can’t. But I can step into the process with trust that I can figure it out one word at a time – while knowing that I may not figure it out after all. I can have faith in the outcome (in the process) without knowing that I’ll succeed. The willingness to show up and be in those moments – trusting that something will happen is, to me, the best way forward. I say something because I believe the writing I do doesn’t come entirely from me – it comes through me. Ideas come, impulses, sounds in the room lead me to put down words and phrases that I didn’t plan. You might call it the Muse. I don’t think that’s far off. At times, writing is like channeling. Characters speak, words and images come. I stay open as they emerge. They’re not all engineered by my conscious mind. That’s why faith in an unpredictable process is, for me, more useful than a grand belief in myself.
If you’re one of those writers who thinks confidence is a building block of success, I challenge you to see it differently. Try something simpler. Lean into the notion that, as a writer, you’re responsible for part of what happens on the page. To harness the rest of it, show up, stay open, stay faithful. And watch what develops.
I’m eager to hear about your experience. When you’re ready, share some adventures from your writing life.