We all have confidence issues when it comes to our writing. I haven’t met a writer yet who doesn’t worry, at least sometimes, if their readers are going to like what they’ve written. This applies to writers of all ages and levels of experience, from elementary-aged students to adults who have written multiple books.
What if I can’t write?
You probably wonder if you’re any good at writing. Maybe it wasn’t your best subject in school. You don’t know all the technical terms or the plot structures, and your spelling and grammar aren’t perfect. The fear (which we call your writing dragon) can be huge, and it stops a lot of people from getting started.
Let me assure you that most of the completed manuscripts that end up in editors’ offices are full of mistakes. That doesn’t stop the authors from writing and succeeding, and it doesn’t have to stop you, either.
Some writers write primarily for themselves: what they like to write, what they want to say. Others write primarily for their readers: what’s going to help readers, what readers need to know. Both groups of writers can feel very vulnerable when someone reads what they’ve written. Both can be stopped in their tracks by their writing dragon.
Some people are not good at writing; I won’t sugar-coat the truth. But most people CAN write. At the most basic level, it’s just talking on paper.
For years, I’d be nervous every time I read a comment a reader had posted about something I’d written online, and every time I read aloud to my husband something I’d written. I was anxious. I wanted people to like it, but didn’t know if they would.
My writing involved a wide variety of topics and had different tones, sometimes funny, sometimes tear-jerking, but usually a conversational and informative tone.
Now, I still don’t know if readers are going to like what I write, but most feedback I’ve received from readers has been positive, and after over a decade of marriage, I know that my husband is going to like just about anything I create. I also know that he’s not going to be a good critic for me because of that. If I want to improve my writing, I need to have someone other than my husband read it and give me feedback. I’d much rather have him do it, because it’s going to be easy on me, but that doesn’t help me improve.
Get feedback on your writing
The most painful feedback I’ve gotten so far was from someone I know, but he didn’t know it was my writing he was commenting on. He just knew the author was a woman (from details mentioned in the piece itself), and his comment was, “That writer needs to write better, because it’s not at all clear what she means there.” Another reader replied to him, saying that yes, it was perfectly clear because what he was questioning was directly stated, but his comment still bothered me. I took that immediately and put it to use, reading through other pieces I’d done, checking for clarity.
If it’s hard for you to take criticism and turn it around to make it useful for you, don’t worry! It’s okay! I took me years of reading critical comments about my writing before I could do that. In the beginning, I’d let it sting for days or even weeks before trying to look for a way to make it useful.
Even now, if a stab is particularly deep, I might not be able to recover quickly, and that’s okay. Criticism does not mean that you can’t write. It only means that the person making the comment doesn’t like something about what you wrote. Every writer receives criticism, so don’t let that stop you, either. You might want to read How to handle criticism.
Read what experts say about writing
There are so many books about writing. Amazon is an excellent source for them, as is your local public library. It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money to become a better writer. A good strategy is to check out books from your local library first, and only buy the ones that really appeal to you—books that you’ll refer to again and again in your writing career. Stephen King, a prolific and successful writer, wrote one of the classics. On Writing is worth the time to read and to refer back to repeatedly.
Write more. Writing every day is ideal, even if it’s just for a few minutes. If you can’t write daily, however, write as often as you can. If you can’t squeeze 15 minutes of writing into your day, you’re too busy, or too afraid.
Get help from a writing coach
If you’re too afraid to write, or think that you can’t write for whatever reason, getting help from a writing coach can help. There are several places to find a writing coach, including right here on this site. College professors and writing groups may offer the help you need for free, however
If someone will help you for free, please be sure to respect and show appreciation for that person’s time. Following the suggestions and utilizing the feedback you receive will go a long way toward that. Chances are that you can write but you’re understandably concerned about it, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Just start, pay attention to feedback, and correct course. Above all, enjoy the process. It’s worth it.