Writing Motivation

Silence your inner critic: 8 ways to write in peace

Even the great authors have suffered from self-doubt. The good news is that there are ways to silence your inner critic so that you are free to write what you like. Here are 8 approaches to building your writing confidence:

So often beginning writers (and even established authors) tell themselves ‘My writing is bad’. If you tend to criticize yourself to a creative standstill too, you’re in good company: Even the great authors have suffered from self-doubt. The good news is that there are ways to silence your inner critic so that you are free to write what you like. Here are 8 approaches to building your writing confidence:

1: Join a writing group where others are more or less at your level
2: Make a list of exactly what is bad about your writing and fix each issue
3: Stop comparing yourself to other writers, especially those who have more experience
4: Place positive affirmations around your writing nook
5: Give yourself licence to be terrible … for now
6: Get a writing coach
7: Learn how to revise smarter
8: Study the mechanics of language

To expand on each of the above points:

1: ‘My writing is bad too’: Let a writing group build your confidence

What do you get when you join a writing group? A community of others who likely have similar fears about their work to your own. A writing group that provides constructive feedback on your work will help you grow as a writer and will also give you courage to submit your work publicly more often. A large part of becoming a writer is becoming comfortable with letting go of your work and letting other people read into it what they will.

After spending time as part of a group, you’ll find yourself saying ‘my writing is bad’ less and ‘this specific part of this specific piece is bad and here’s how I plan to fix it’.

2: Make a list of each fault of your writing and work actively at becoming a better writer

So often we tell ourselves our writing isn’t good without having any kind of game plan for how we’re going to fix that. If you feel your writing is bad, the chances are you already know what’s wrong with it. Failing that, submitting your work to a writing group will help you learn what you need to work on most through the eyes of other aspiring authors.

Make a list of each general fault in your writing and compile a list of resources that will help you criticize yourself less. If, for example, your characters feel thin and nondescript, find a selection of articles on writing better characters and note down any advice that you find a helpful reminder. If you tackle one aspect of writing each week, such as grammar, description or opening lines, in time you will have improved your craft evenly across all the major elements of novel-writing.

3: Comparison is the enemy of writing confidence

Often we get asked ‘I want to write and be successful like J.K. Rowling’ or similar. Aspirations and ambitions are good. Comparing yourself to other writers in terms of success versus lack of success is not. J.K. Rowling received countless rejections from publishers before Harry Potter was accepted and became a YA fantasy publishing phenomenon. Instead of comparing yourself to authors who have been through arduous processes to achieve their current success levels, use exercises to benefit from their skill:

  1. Choose a book by one of your favourite authors.
  2. Each day, read a paragraph and close the book and try to write the complete paragraph from memory.
  3. When you’re finished, compare your version to the original. What’s different? Maybe the original has better punctuation and flows better or there’s an important adjective you missed.
  4. Keep doing this exercise to really learn from what makes successful authors’ writing work, so you can emulate those effective features in your own work.

4: Make your writing space a shrine to positive thinking

One way to defeat harsh self-criticism and stop saying ‘my writing is bad’ is to surround your writing space with positive affirmations. Print out your favourite quotes about accepting your current level of capability or inspiring quotes about overcoming challenges. Make your work space an environment that reminds you to be kind to yourself and to not take your work so seriously that you get blocked.

Also print out any positive feedback you receive on your work and place it above your writing desk. Remind yourself of ways your writing has moved or amused people because this will keep you motivated to keep going.

5: Allow yourself to be a terrible writer – it’s only temporary

Impatience leads to shoddy work which in turn will make you feel like an even worse writer. Rather than expect yourself to write glowing sentences that are rich with imagination, write what you are able to write today. Even if your writing feels terrible, you can rewrite it and edit it and improve it.

If you really struggle with self-criticism, so much that you constantly go back to edit lines without finishing a novel, use software to stop yourself from doing this. You could change the text colour in your word processor to match the background so that you can’t see what you’ve just written. You can also use an online tool that blurs your last sentence out as you go, forcing you to keep writing.

6: Get writing help from a coach

A writing coach, someone who sends you motivating emails and helps you overcome specific obstacles, will help you turn off that ‘my writing is bad voice’. Sometimes it helps to have someone guiding you so that you don’t lose perspective. Your coach’s objectivity will make it easier to believe in your process and your story and make it to the finish line.

7: Learn how to revise smarter

If you’re revising and thinking ‘my writing sucks’, it’s possible you aren’t revising as effectively as you could. To make the most of the revision process:

  1. Every time you revise a piece, make notes first on what you want the paragraph, chapter or section to achieve.
  2. Work on the aspect of your writing that frustrates you the most first: Don’t leave your least favourite part of revising for last when you are tired.

8: Become a language mechanic

If you can’t shake the thought ‘my writing is bad’, it’s time to do something about it and spend time working on the mechanics of language. Learn the anatomy of a great sentence. Read up about different types of tense and mood and experiment with writing scenes relying mostly on each type.

If you dedicate a little time to consciously improving each element of your writing, you can go from being a passable writer to pro in only a few months or even weeks.

Improve your writing via helpful writing feedback on Now Novel

By Bridget McNulty

Bridget McNulty is a published author, content strategist, writer, editor and speaker. She is the co-founder of two non-profits: Sweet Life Diabetes Community, South Africa's largest online diabetes community, and the Diabetes Alliance, a coalition of all the organisations working in diabetes in South Africa. She is also the co-founder of Now Novel: an online novel-writing course where she coaches aspiring writers to start - and finish! - their novels. Bridget believes in the power of storytelling to create meaningful change.

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