Writing Motivation

Build confidence in writing: 21 motivating quotes

What are the major challenges aspiring writers face? This is something we’ve been asking you in a poll on the blog recently and your responses have been informative and interesting. Many writers list confidence in writing as a challenge, so without further ado here are 21 quotes that will help you to persevere and finish writing your novel:

What are the major challenges aspiring writers face? This is something we’ve been asking you in a poll on the blog recently and your responses have been informative and interesting. Many writers list confidence in writing as a challenge, so without further ado here are 21 quotes that will help you to persevere and finish writing your novel:

1. Remember that no writer has it easy

Do you feel bad when you’ve written a draft and the words sound clumsy or the plot seems full of holes? Remember not to be hard on yourself and rather revise, revise, and revise some more. Even Ernest Hemingway struggled to find the perfect words:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends, I re-wrote the ending to “Farewell to Arms”, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

2. Your terrible first draft of your novel is a start – celebrate it

As Anne Lamott (author of Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life) says:

‘Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.’ Lamott points out that this is what leads to second drafts and terrific third drafts, and ultimately a book. You need to get it all down first.

3. Strive for comfort in taking risks 

The poet E.E. Cummings reminds us why even when suffering from low confidence it is crucial to take creative risks:

‘Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.’

4. Do your thing and readers will see your passion

Do you think readers will find this interesting?’ It’s a question we see often in our online critique groups. It is natural to want to move, entertain and delight others through writing. But comedy writer and actress Tina Fey provides some valuable advice in her book Bossypants for allowing your own passion to shine through your writing:

‘Don’t waste your energy trying to change opinions … Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.’

5. Remind yourself you can start writing without anyone’s approval

Comedy memoirist Augusten Burroughs suggests to let go of other people’s perceptions of your work that are out of your control and grant yourself approval first:

‘When you say, “I need more confidence,” what you’re really saying is, “I need those people over there to approve of me. That is the desire to control other people and what they think. The first person who figures out how to do this owns the world.’

6. Don’t hide your light

Many writers, if not most, are introverts. This can make putting your work (and yourself) forwards daunting, but remember this piece of wisdom from John Campbell:

‘The reason 99% of all stories written are not bought by editors is very simple. Editors never buy manuscripts that are left on the closet shelf at home.’

7. Embrace the unknown

Part of lacking confidence about writing comes out of the sense of the unknown, of not knowing where the story will take you. This doesn’t have to deter you from writing, as E.L. Doctorow explains:

‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’

8. Work > talent

As a society we often place a high premium on ‘talent’, and you may worry that you do not have a wholly natural talent for writing, but even the greatest natural abilities go wasted without work, according to William Faulkner:

‘At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, training himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try until it comes right.’

9. Use the short story as a training ground

If you want to grow your confidence, write short stories. Write them as complete works in themselves, or write them as process work for your novel. In the words of Larry Niven:

‘You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money’s in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed.’

10. Cut ‘failure’ from your vocabulary

EL Doctorow quote on writing a novel

Remember as you write that the fact you’re committed and motivated means the word ‘failure’ should be the furthest thing from your mind. Says Ray Bradbury:

‘Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.’

11. Don’t let fear of judgement deter you

If you’re putting off writing your book, what is the underlying cause? It’s important to spend some time noting down every reason you procrastinate so you can stop. If you’re nervous of being judged, work at accepting judgment and treat it has a learning opportunity. Erica Jong says, of not writing:

‘I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.’

12. Becoming good takes time

Remember that only with perseverance and many ‘bad’ drafts will your writing improve of its own accord. It takes time to develop a distinctive voice. As Edgar Rice Burroughs says:

‘If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.’

13. How to build writing confidence: Face fears head-on

Remember that merely facing your fear of your writing being no good and persevering in spite of it can build writing confidence. As Eleanor Roosevelt said,

‘You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.’

14. Silence the ‘you can’t write’ voice

The painter Vincent van Gogh’s work didn’t sell in his lifetime. But he knew the secret to maintaining confidence in the face of challenges. His advice on painting applies equally to writing:

‘If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.’

15. Your first accomplishment is to be yourself

Writers often compare themselves to others unfavourably, but being yourself and writing in your voice is something only you can do. Ralph Waldo Emerson emphasizes this:

‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.’

16. Fake it until there’s no need to

Sometimes, merely faking confidence until it becomes a natural feeling can work. Make confidence a habit, advises Brian Tracy:

‘Confidence is a habit that can be developed by acting as if you already had the confidence you desire to have.’

17. A little self-doubt is a good thing

Jorge Luis Borges quote on doubt

The French writer Colette, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, had a contrary view: Self-doubt can be a good thing if you channel it into being disciplined about polishing your work:

‘The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately: the time has come for him to lay aside his pen.’

18. Embrace and use your doubts about writing constructively

The famous short fiction writer Jorge Luis Borges also reminds that there is value in doubt that can be harnessed to productive ends:

‘Doubt is one of the names of intelligence.’

19. Your confidence will grow as you grow your writing muscle

Remember to write every day, if possible. Even if this means writing in a journal in bed for 10 minutes before you turn out the light. Just as an athlete keeps muscles flexible and ready to serve, frequent writing practice helps the words to come at your bidding:

‘Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.’ Jane Yolen

20. Focus on what you want to say

Low writing confidence often arises out of focusing too much on what others will feel or say about your writing. Barbara Kingsolver cautions to focus on your own voice and finding how best to express it to your own satisfaction first:

‘Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.’

21. Low confidence can lead to procrastination, but you can still start

It’s never too late to start writing the story you’ve always wanted to tell. As George Eliot says:

‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’

To build confidence in writing, it’s important to get used to taking risks and to put aside focus on other people’s impressions. Focus on what you want to say, persevere while working at your craft, and your passion will show through. Whenever you are stuck, a writing group or mentor can help you to find solutions to your writing challenges.

By Jordan

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

4 replies on “Build confidence in writing: 21 motivating quotes”

Why do people persist in using pastel colors on white? Some of us can’t see pastels against white! I can’t see them anymore, and suddenly the whole web is pastels or grey lettering on stark white, or (even worse) on other pastels, that give NO CONTRAST. Grr. I have to use half a dozen plug-ins and extensions in order to be able to read posts online.
Okay, rant over. 🙂

Thanks for the very valuable feedback, Tammy. I’m sorry that you find the blog’s colour scheme hard on your eyes. Will pass this along to our design team. Happy writing!

Thank you. It’s good to feel heard about this. I recently bought the lifetime special, so I’ll be around frequently. And don’t get me wrong, the site IS pretty! It’s simply almost illegible to me as is, and I’m still trying out different extensions to make it workable. One extension sets everything in greyscale, which makes the site readable, but destroys the images. Another extension deepens the contrast, which makes the site readable, but again destroys the images. It’s just frustrating, having to switch back and forth all the time between “I can read this site” and “I can see the pictures on this site”.

If I could make only one suggestion, I would suggest all type be #000000 (all black). If I could make two, the second one would be to use a slightly heavier typeface, but page zooming helps with this in any case. 🙂

Thank you, again, for responding. I appreciate knowing I’ve been heard. 🙂

Of course, Tammy. We really value feedback of any nature – we’re constantly planning our next steps to improve and grow. I’m glad you’ve found a temporary workaround at least.

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