The Confidence Game


6a00e54ff9f2cf88340120a786bd73970bHello again WEbook tribe. Thanks for all the great comments on my last post. I wanted to start with something universal—the necessity of reading—and it seemed like it struck a chord. This time I want to broach something equally universal to new (and veteran) writers—maintaining confidence. Next to publication, this might be one of the toughest things to master in the writing game.

As someone in the throes of trying to finish his first novel, I struggle with confidence daily. Am I good enough? Will I ever get a book deal? Am I fooling myself, wasting my time, are my friends and family just humoring me? It gets worse when I read various book reviews and see passages pulled from novels that seem far superior to anything I’m writing. Or maybe it’s the book I’m reading (lately I’m keen on torturing myself with first novels so I can compulsively compare them to my own). At some point, I inevitably decide that what I’m writing will never be as good as what I’m reading and I should just give up.

Here’s another one of my favorite games. I impulsively follow bestseller and “notable books” lists. Naturally my novel appears nothing like those that are commercial or critical favorites and the doubts creep in anew. Or worse, I start questioning my plot or POV or setting and contemplate making changes so it might have a better chance of catching an agent or editor’s eye or be more successful in the marketplace because it mimics something that’s flying off the shelves.

This inevitably leads to a certain amount of despondency (and TV watching, eating, cracking that third beer, etc.). Sound familiar?

The trick to overcoming this is simple. Actually, that’s a joke; there is no pill or vaccination against doubt. It’s something that you have to learn to deal with. Here’s what I do: I remind myself that no one can write the story I’m writing. No one had my exact childhood, my peculiar teen years, my oddball parents, my lovers, my jobs, etc. No one thinks precisely as I do. I also seek out and read accounts by other writers, agents and editors about how they kept faith in an idea or person and were rewarded in the end. Finally I realize that if I don’t write my story the way I want to write it, I’ll never forgive myself if it doesn’t get published. And I strongly believe that agents and editors can tell when you’ve written a book to please them or the market or anyone besides yourself. 

So, the question this week is: how do you deal with doubt when it creeps into your writing world?


p.s. My apologies to those who direct messaged me last week. I was out of internet range while traveling and will get back to you ASAP.

JMHammock1 John Meils is currently finishing a first novel, tentatively titled The Warring House. He has written for Elle, Men’s Health, and, among others. To learn more about him, visit

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  1. Hi All,
    At the moment, I'm not quite sure how to get through the "gray-grungies." I feel rather bummed at the moment, myself. I started submitting my work a couple of months ago and quickly got a lot of feedback that the work needs work... :-)
    I think it's probably one of those ultimate bummer moments, you think you're getting close to done only to find out you're work is just beginning.
    I have beaucoup sympathy for anyone going through this process. All I can say is hang in there. Sorry I don't have much more useful to say on the topic yet, but it feels good to bend an e-ear out there somewhere... :-)
    For the time being, I think I'm going to pull back and get some more feedback. It's time to do a bunch more revising, then more feedback, then more revising, etc. etc. etc...
    When I think it's ready (again, really) I'll have another go. In the mean time, I think I've learned a lot this last little while - and not much of it was pleasant.

  2. Miss Marion Forrest26 April 2010 at 09:19

    Hello to you all out their! my name is "Marion" - MaHoney and I live in the South-east coast of England.
    I have so much fire in my belly to write and poetry is certainly my passion, but lately I just can't seem to get past writers block. I have so very much to say and write but it seems to get lost the minute I open my laptop to write.
    My book is all about "Living in the real world" and my journey will be pure poetry.
    Writing can sometimes feel like a lonely place when your the only one that believes it will be worth the paper it is written on...and I do believe in myself - I just want someone out their to believe in me too!!
    The feedback I recieve from other writers on Webook is incredible and I thank each and every one of you for the motivation.
    well, I had better get back to seeing whats next in my thoughts to write about!
    Love Marion x

  3. Confidence is a big player when it comes to writing. I write for a newspaper called CII and for my first article I was a nervous wreck. When the time came to pen to paper I just couldn't do it. No matter what I wrote I deemed it insufficient.
    I found the best way to get over the 'my writing sucks' phase is to complete a piece. It doesn't even have to be relevant, just write something of similar length and make sure you complete it (no matter how poor you think it is). Completing something always makes you feel good and it will give you a major confidence boost. Now you are ready to get back on track!

  4. You know I'm a real wimp.I have a hard time facing my fears and my deepest wounds so I lack confidence...ALOT!!!

  5. Hello fellow writers-
    I find my biggest issue is I get these brilliant ideas and I put them down... and then... nothing. I can't seem to stay focused. So after spending alot of money on 'writers helpers' (i.e. music to write to, music to read to, videos to inspire a writer yada yada ya) I have found the best solution is to get away from it. I haven't spent much time on anything but work and writing since I started my book and I went hiking the other day, which is something I used to do at least once a week, and I came home refreshed with new ideas and a burst of confidence.
    Also, let someone read some of your work, someone who you really care what they think and will also give you great criticism. It's quite refreshing to hear from a close friend that your work needs work rather than an agent or publisher. And they can also help with the concept of the book. I have always been able to write chapter 1 but not get beyond it, and I whipped right throught the first 2 on my current book but when I got to chapter 3 I started to doubt myself. So I phoned a friend, gave him the super rough draft, and listened to his criticism with an open mind. It really did help.
    I hope everyone is writing well, or at least well while they are writing!

  6. Jennifer B. Fields26 April 2010 at 16:55

    How did you know that I was was having confidence issues? Reading John's post was like reading my own journal. It amazes me that my confidence can dwindle so quickly.
    Last week I had my writer friends telling me that I'm the next Steven King. My confidence was through the roof. Then today...Many times it just takes one tiny event and POOF!
    This time it was a movie.
    I watched The Lovely Bones, which I read a while back, and suddenly my writing is crap.
    MY ADVICE: Stop. Read a good book. OR go on youtube and watch videos of successful authors. It always helps me to see how even some of todays best writers started in the gutter. It give me hope.
    Hang in there fellow writers! It's just a slump.

  7. I tell myself to stop being stupid, "You're a damn good writer Danielle!", and then I eat half a pint of ice cream sandwich flavored icecream with half a bottle of wine and get to it. If that doesn't work, I put my book in time out and tell it that it's not allowed to come out till it behaves. This seems to work even better after a week or two of anything that doesn't involve writing at all. I know that sounds counterproductive, but think about it. We eat, sleep, breathe, deficate writing....why would we want to suffocate ourselves with more? Yeah, yeah, yeah... I've read all of those "how to be an amazing billionaire writer before you die" too, and I know what they say, but have you ever noticed how the most brilliant ideas come to you when you're not thinking? I make it a habit of not thinking often, or atleast not thinking too hard.

  8. Neat ideas, all.
    As for this kid, I think it's time to step back a bit and do something else for awhile.
    I had put my work up on the Agent Inbox, which is where I got some significant non-positive feedback.
    At the moment, I'd almost be inclined to pull my submission back--to live to fight another day. Not sure you can do that, however. Might just have to let that submission run its course.
    I'm thinking it's probably time to take some workshops in areas where I think the greatest improvement "opportunities" lie. Between that and a few writers' groups maybe I'll actually learn a thing or two. But first, time to put everything on the shelf for a couple of weeks.
    Oh, and yes--the ice cream and the bottle of wine sounded like a good idea, too... 8^)

  9. I completed my first novel(2 years), then rejection after rejection.Some days I think its good enough, some days I think its crap in comparison to other first novels.
    I've done the ice cream, wine, ignored it, started on my second novel.
    Not sure whether to scrap it and start again? But that's my style, thats how I write, that's my style.I guess in the end it's down to how strong your self belief is and how persistant you are.

  10. Hi Writers. I'm new to this site and really glad to meet you and read your comments. Talk about lack of confidence...I just put my first page on P2F and am scared to death that readers will think it is terrible. I know some of my stuff is good...but will other writers/readers think so? Only one way to find out so it can be better. That's how I deal with lack of confidence. Just push forward and see what happens. But then that is new, for years I'd write and do nothing with it because I was afraid. Well that didn't work. I'm just a lot older and still in the same spot. So here goes.

  11. Whoa! JohnnyM here...looks like we got a pretty ripe topic. I think everything I've read here so far is great. Especially the pushing forward part. For me, I just have to keep writing and writing and writing. Even when I don't feel like it and even when I know it's junk. And yes, as someone mentioned, finish what you're working on. Or don't, but definitely start something else right away. Also, it helps to get into a routine which (hint, hint), might be the topic for my next post.

  12. You are so right Johnny...Writing is one big roller coaster. ups and downs and self-doubt, but like you said we have to hang in there and keep pushing forward.
    Have recently wrote my first novel and am in the editing process. After doing some myself I hired an editor to look it over and I have to say it was very enlightening. As opposed to asking friends or family I find that paying someone for their professional opinion is much more advantageous. Have learned alot from her and have seen my work through different eyes. I'm hoping that after this process is done I will be closer to becoming published.

  13. Rejections are the worst. I once delayed opening an email for two days, thinking it was another rejection. I didn't feel I could handle it at that moment. It was a confirmation my submission was received. I try to distract myself; set other goals unrelated to writing and continue on new writing projects. I've convinced myself I'm a writer, whether I'm ever published or not, it is within me to write. So that's what I'm doing.

  14. Lyle Blake Smythers28 April 2010 at 03:05

    It's useful for me to remember that a lot of comments that some people think are valid criticism actually fall into other categories such as "This is not the way I would have done it" or "This is not my cup of tea."
    I had an agent express some interest in my fantasy novel until she read some sample chapters. She came back to me and said that she didn't like novels told in the first person. Okay, this is her prerogative. It's only frustrating because I think I have a good piece of work and she could have been helpful in my getting published.
    I have also been hurt when good friends whose opinions I value took a look at my book and did the equivalent of shrugging and indicating, "Huh. Interesting" when I really wanted them to start doing cartwheels and screaming about how great it was. Then I remembered that some of them don't really care for fantasy all that much.
    A lot of it comes down to keeping a healthy perspective, considering the source of the comment, and trying to maintain my faith in the value of what I am doing.
    Lyle Blake Smythers

  15. Wow, somehow you managed to retrieve all of my thoughts and claim them as your own. (Just kidding of course). I have the same thoughts that you write about on a daily basis. I look at the things I have accomplished when I need some confidence building.
    Finding confidence can be tricky. There are times when I have it and try to run with it but then someone steps in and says "Not good enough," then it comes crashing back down.
    I'm glad to know there are others that think like me.

  16. Okay, I know this post is getting pushed down on the page now...erm, thanks Corey. Just as a wrap up, I want to say that sometimes I gain confidence by knowing that there are so many other writers out there struggling with it too. I know that might sound a little crazy, a little misery loves company but it works.
    I noticed a lot of people mentioning that they take a break if "it" is not coming. This is actually not something I do...because I'm a big routine guy. That said--and I'll definitely dedicate a column to this at some point--what works for me doesn't have to work for someone else and vice versa. That applies to taste, too. Some people, editors, agents, etc. are simply not going to vibe with your stuff--and that's cool.
    Just keep writing...

  17. HI.
    Please help me.
    I am 15 year old, have written a novel, some short stories and poems.
    I want to be a writer, poet, philosopher and thinker when I grow up.
    But problems!! problems and problems!!!!!


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