I love to watch Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, exude what he calls calm assertiveness. It only takes a short time for him to get dogs — whose frazzled owners have unsuccessfully cajoled, yelled at, or bribed them — to behave.
What writers need is quiet confidence.
Let’s face it; many people (yes, even professional writers) get a bit panicky when faced with a blank screen or page. All kinds of doubts about our abilities come gushing up from our guts. Our confidence abandons us. How do we combat that?
Focus on what you have to say. So many times, people sabotage their writing by worrying about the mechanics more than the meaning. You have something valid to share, so focus on organizing it clearly especially for the first draft.
Don’t anticipate problems. Writing is hard enough without conjuring all the things that could go wrong. Stay in the “now.” Avoid predicting phantom writing disasters.
Don’t forget the reader. Don’t ever forget that we write to give something to the reader. One of my pet peeves (I have so many!) is people who write in a manner that makes them look smart but confuses the reader. We run into this all the time in academia, government, and business. If you concentrate on the best way to get your information across to the reader, you won’t have to worry about looking smart; you’ll be smart!
Mechanics are important. Cleaning up grammar, spelling, and usage can wait until you revise. Get it down, but make sure to clean it up. Never skip revision. In fact, make sure you go over your work at least twice before you send it off. If you take the time to polish up your writing, you build confidence in the final product.
Practice. Writing is like athletics or playing a musical instrument: the more you practice, the better you get. Exercise your writing muscles regularly, and you’ll find it gets easier. The easier it gets for you, the more confident you become in your writing abilities.
Stay humble. The moment I get overconfident and think I know everything is the moment someone comes along to point out my errors. Talk about an ego buster! Understand that you don’t know everything. Be willing to take constructive criticism. Be willing to learn more.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. For some reason people, especially Americans, think asking for help is equal to admitting failure. We all need help and, for the most part, are willing to help others. You’re human, so it means you’re going to make mistakes. Asking for help when you run into trouble is smart; struggling alone and producing a flawed product isn’t. Besides, there’s nothing better than having someone you admire tell you that you did a good job.
It’s tough to maintain confidence when you write. There are just so many things that can go wrong out in the public eye. If you concentrate on the things that can go right and follow these tips, you can gain the confidence you need to write well.
I know you can!
Next Week: Change Is Constant