I've been thinking a lot about confidence in writing lately. Where it comes from, how to foster it in ourselves and others.
I've been writing poetry for over 20 years now. I've worked in publishing, I've attended courses and writing groups, I've have a modest publication record. I know I'm not a great writer, but I am proud of what I write. I submit to journals and punt my collections to publishers without fear of rejection. It happens a lot, I just move on.
I've forgotten what it means to fear putting words on the page because they weren't good enough, for judging every single thing I write as crap. There must have been that stage in my writing. Maybe I'm just too old to remember or I'm just too full of myself to have ever suffered from it. I doubt the latter.
I used to take forever to write a poem, spending ages on each line. I would rewrite a few lines and then leave it for a few days to settle before trying again. It took me years to finish things. I'm not sure now if it was lack of confidence in what I wrote or just being unfocussed. Except when I was working on my first novel, I've never had a serious amount of exclusive writing time to just write and edit. I fit it in between work, on commutes, in waiting rooms.
So how does one gain confidence in their writing? The confidence to finish a piece and trust that it is enough, to send it out into the world for others to read, enjoy and publish.
Can you teach confidence to writers? My first creative writing teacher was probably too positive about my work, everything was great and worthy. It made me enjoy and trust my writing and want to write more. It was a shock when I received more critical feedback, some of it very harsh and blunt, but it never stopped me. I learned to filter out the important issues and try to use that kernel of the feedback to improve my writing.
Someone mentioned Imposter Syndrome to me recently when discussing confidence. There have been times when I've had to play at being a poet to be able to get through situations where I haven't felt up to the task. After my second son, I think I struggled a bit with post-natal depression and barely went out or talked to people. I actually put on a costume (a fancy pin and scarf I wouldn't ususally wear) and went to various writing events to force myself to mingle and smile. I eventually worked back up to reading my work in public. I still wrote, it was the public side I struggled with and pretending I was a capable poet helped.
I've had days when I've ripped up poems or just deleted them. Days when I've cried at a reader's harsh or tactless or too honest words. Days when I've despaired that I'd never get published or that my writing was so bad that everyone hated it.
But I always went back to writing because it has never been about publication or being liked or finding an audience though those things would be gravy. It was a need to write, to capture my thoughts, my life, my breath on paper. To give them a permanent space when everything was swirling around my head. And I didn't compare them to others' work, didn't worry if they were good enough because they were me, at that moment, rough and raw, slightly polished with time, changing with mood and experience. And I have always been good enough.
It frustrates me that I can praise my fellow writers, my mentees until I'm blue, but I can't make them see how good and brave they are for just writing what they want. How bringing that scraggly, imperfect poem into the light of understanding readers is a cause for celebration and pride. How sending your work to a journal even though it will probably be rejected, because the odds are against almost all writers there, is amazing because for 10 minutes or so your words are inhabiting someone else's head and making them think about something you cared enough to write. And if it's not for them, it's still yours.
I don't suppose there's a way to teach that, but I wish I could.