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Confidence, Courage and Self-doubt

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Random Acts of Optimism

Alison Wells

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In this blog I’m going to be exploring how we can find ways to write even in the busiest of times but in this article I want to take a step back to see what is necessary to give us the best chance of writing and developing as a writer.

First we need to see ourselves as and have the confidence to call ourselves writers whether we are published or not. One writer I heard from said that the Marketing title on her work business card did not reflect what she felt was her true identity but that even outside of work she never referred to herself as a writer.

We write for many reasons; for pleasure, for personal satisfaction, for family or for the wider public. We know that we love to write but often don’t take ourselves seriously enough to call ourselves writers. Sometimes we say that we would like to write (and as Claire Hennessy tells us, if you really want to write, you will find the time ) others refer to themselves as aspiring writers.

In a recent blog post on my personal blog I explained why I am a writer, not an aspiring writer.  I may aspire to be widely published and remunerated for my efforts but I am a writer, not only because I have always wanted to write, but I am writing every day, becoming familiar with the writing world.

An important step is to tell others that you are a writer, to join a writer’s group or online forum, to set up a blog and post some of your work for peer review. At home, talk about your writing (not all the time!) and let other family members know that writing is something that is important to you and that you want to find time for. Put writing into the daily equation. I have been quite taken aback by how my children have, over time come to accept my writing. Recently my eldest told his friend that ‘My mother is a writer, she needs quiet so she can write’.I am not (yet!) a published novelist but the fact that I need time and space to work on my novel or a short story is acknowledged (in theory sometimes more than in practise when it comes to keep the noise level down!)

As well as confidence in our status as writers, we need to believe in ourselves every time we begin to create something new, whenever we try to craft the ephemeral snatches of ideas we find under the beds, at the washing line, in news items etc. into a story that means something. We need to cling to hope every day that we pick up the pen or sit in front of a blank screen and think we have something to say.

In a recent excellent blog post, ‘The Write Stuff?’ Robin Black, author of the acclaimed story collection If I loved you, I would tell you this (Random House) talks about her experience of many beginnings and many false starts:

‘…every time I begin a story, I do so in the knowledge that the odds are pretty slim that I’ll ever finish it, that the overwhelming likelihood is that I will work on it for days, even weeks, and then lose faith.

To begin writing a new story, or non-fiction piece takes a kind of courage in the face of doubt and fear, a reckless optimism that something good might come out of it. Sometimes it may not; Robin Black refers to her countless abandoned stories. Often the germ of an idea springs whole into the consciousness but the very act of writing obscures it, the reaching for the pretty shell in the rock pool muddies the water. The way the words congregate on a particular day, depending on the mood, the environment, the way the sun appears or doesn’t, the tune you heard yesterday, the news item that is still lingering in your subconscious, these can all taint or ameliorate the vision in your developing story.

A true writer is a rare breed, a person who treads a thin line between optimism and fear. Even as we write and are carried along by the joy of creating worlds and spinning words and even when things are going well and we like what we are doing, there is a voice underneath telling us that the words we are using aren’t quite right, or that the book will never sell, or that someone has said this better or that our ideas are clichéd. And if you don’t have one of those voices you should.

Self doubt is absolutely necessary. Without it we cannot make improvements, listen to, ask for and act on constructive criticism without taking it personally, walk away from the mediocre and strive for better. Without it, we cannot recognise that we may make false turns, that we are fallible and that the art of writing can sometimes be a fickle gift. We would not be willing to concede that we can make mistakes and that a novel may be better with large chunks of our precious writing removed. Self-doubt gives an edge to our writing, the writing having been turned over and over to find it’s sharpest elements.

There is another kind of self-doubt, the fear for those of us who are short of time that it will take too long, that years will go by before we ever get to the level of expertise we want to, or gain the positive reaction we hope for from readers, fellow writers, the publishing world. And there are no guarantees in the publishing industry. This means that before we think about the how and where of writing, we have to be sure of the what and why. We need to be very clear, very sure that we are writers, we do it because we want to, we have to, we love it, despite its challenges. Then we can begin in the face of these challenges to find the ways.

Mother writer interviews

Running from March to May on my personal blog Head above Water is a series of interviews with mothers who write. I’ll be finding out how they juggle family life and writing and about their successes. First up on March 6th is Maria Duffy from Dublin who now blogs for Hello magazine and has recently been signed with a prestigious London agent. Drop in to see how she and the other writers do it!

  • The Dark Room: A thrilling new novel from the number one Irish Times bestselling author of Keep Your Eyes on Me
  • allianceindependentauthors.org

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