Thursday, June 21, 2012

How do you know if your writing is good enough?

by Rachel Coker

There is something that I have realized lately from the number of emails and conversations I have had with teenage writers. And that is that a large majority of teens interested in writing don’t think that they are good writers.


They have doubts. They question and second guess themselves. Someone gives them a criticism and they feel discouraged and disheartened, and wonder if they should write at all. As both a teenager and a writer, I can definitely relate to this. I think that the teenage years make dealing with self-doubt especially difficult, because our minds are programmed to be alert to criticisms and insecurities. You all know that this is true!

Your best friend tries on a dress that looks fantastic and the first thing you think is, “Man, I wish I hadn’t eaten that cheeseburger for supper last night. Then maybe I might look as good as her.” And when we hear someone say something even a little bit negative about our writing, we freak out and start saying to ourselves, “I knew I shouldn’t try to be a writer. Who am I kidding?”

I’ve also seen this work in the opposite way. Teenagers will walk up to me and plead with me to talk to their friend and tell them that their writing is good. “I’m always telling her that she should be an author!” the best friend will bemoan, “But she just doesn’t think she’s good enough!” I’ve been there before. This may come as, like, a giant newsflash for you guys, but I have insecurities, too! I’m not some type of super-writer, who’s just constantly inspired and motivated and flawless 24/7. No one is. I have never met an author who didn’t struggle with insecurities.

But, despite my fears, I still write. I still publish books. I still try to move forward. And my goal is to help you do that, too! So here is my three step plan. This is how we are going to combat those voices in your head telling you that you aren’t good enough. It’s interactive, so we all have to work together, okay? It’s like motivation bootcamp, minus the blood, sweat, and tears. I present to you…

RACHEL COKER'S THREE STEP PLAN TO GAINING CONFIDENCE AS A WRITER

Step Number One: Make Mistakes, and Be Okay With it

Everyone makes mistakes. That’s not just a line from a corny Hannah Montana song, it’s the truth. Your writing is always going to have flaws. It is never going to be perfect. It may even have historical inaccuracies or—gasp!—typos. You know what? Get over it! Move on! It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to be bad sometimes. There are days that I literally stare at my laptop, read over what I’ve just written, and pound my head on my computer keys moaning, “Why did anyone ever publish my writing? I’m the worst writer in the history of the world!”

We’re all going to have those days. First drafts can be rough, second drafts can be spotty, and sometimes even eighteenth drafts are going to be necessary. That’s okay. Every writer sees the flaws in his or her work. Every. Single. One. I’ve heard of authors who won’t even read their published works because it is so embarrassing to them to look through pages of imperfect writing. Great, fabulous authors who have published outstanding pieces of literature who honestly don’t think of themselves as very good. See? You’re not alone. It’s normal! What you have to remember is this:


Step Number Two: You Have Amazing Potential

I’ve never even read your writing and I know that you have potential. Want to know how? Because you’re motivated. Because you’re passionate. Because you love to write and you’re not afraid to just to do it, even if you feel insecure sometimes. You have something that is so rare and valuable. Even if your writing is sloppy, even if you make mistakes or typos, you still have the potential to create something really meaningful. When you are passionate about something, there is always potential to be good at it. Great at it, even!

I’ve always believed that success is 10% talent and 90% motivation. The only problem is that so many teen writers don’t tap into that potential. They don’t pursue it. They forget that even Olympic athletes started out with knee pads and Lance Armstrong started out with training wheels and Pulitzer prize-winning authors started out with terrible first drafts. Everyone has to start somewhere. You’re not going to bowl a strike without first hitting the bumper a few (or gazillion!) times. And you’re not going to end up with an amazing book without putting in a lot of work.

So if you’re insecure, maybe the problem isn’t that you’re not talented or not good enough to be a writer. Maybe it’s just that you don’t work at it hard enough. It’s not a bad thing to have big dreams. To want to be a fantastic author who publishes dozens of books and never has to scrub a toilet. (That is a lie, by the way. I happen to know that authors scrub toilets all the time.)

Having dreams isn’t bad. You shouldn’t be discouraged by the fact that your fantasies seem so big and out of reach and you don’t think you have what it takes to live up to it. Work at it. Tap into your potential. Take your passion for writing and really give it your best. Even if nothing ever comes of it and you create nothing but terrible, unpublishable mush---it will have been worth it. Because you will have spent a lifetime doing something you love. And what could possibly give you more confidence than that?

And finally, we move on to:


Step Number Three: Tell that Voice in Your Head to Just Shush Up

You know, in a really nice way. The next time that voice in your head is telling you that you’re not good enough or that you’ll never be as good an author as xyz, just don’t listen. Just don’t do it! Think instead of voices like mine and Stephanie’s and Jill’s and all these other wonderful women cheering you on. Encouraging you to just try a different angle and give it another go.

Listen to your friends when they tell you that they like something. Trust their opinions and don’t doubt them. Listen to them when they tell you to fix something. They wouldn’t tell you that if they didn’t love you and want to help make your writing even better! The biggest thing standing in the way of your self-confidence is just that: Yourself. You have so many amazing tools, resources, and encouragement that are just waiting for you if you reach out and take it. So there is no reason to second-guess or doubt yourself!

Remember that if you love what you do, and you give it your all, you are never going to be anything but successful. Because your idea of success shouldn’t hinge on whether or not you get published, or whether or not you write an amazing scene, or whether or not your evil villain is scary enough. I think that every author’s idea of success should be based on whether or not their writing is making them happy. If you love what you do, and you’re passionate about it, then the self-confidence will be there. Trust me. :)

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I really hope it helped in some way! For those of you who are interested, I always have more tips and advice on my blog! And, big news here, I recently announced the title and cover for my second book (due to be released in December) on my blog and Facebook. Check it out!

27 comments:

  1. Talk about inspiring! I so agree. Especially with the 90% of writing is motivation. How hard is it just to sit down and WRITE?! It's great to know and listen and read these inspiring, motivational messages...but it's a whole kettle of fish actually putting it into practise, isn't it? I'm VERY impressed with this post. Excellent!!

    PS Write first; critique later...eh??! :)

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    1. So glad you found it encouraging, Cait! Yes, definitely write first and critique later. It takes off so much of that initial pressure! :)

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  2. thank you so much for this post! i'm in the middle of my first draft and im completly lost in the story... i was starting to loose confidence in what i was writing and thinking that maybe i have no talent because i cant even finish one first draft. this post helped me regain my confidence i'm gonna close the blog now and continue on writing! :) thanks again

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    1. I'm so glad it was an encouragement! Definitely get back to work on that writing. You can do it! ;)

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  3. Hey! Thanks a mill. I'm a teenager, an unpublished writer, and my best friend (who also writes, magnificently) is constantly at me about losing heart. She is my number-one motivator. Without her, i would not still write, in all probability. Thank God for best mates, right? (:

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    1. That's great! It's so wonderful that you realize how much of an inspiration your best friend is. Isn't it great how God brings people like that into our lives to cheer us up when we're down?

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  4. thanks Rachel! This is really helpful! One of my friends is my encourager. She encourages me to keep writing, and listens when I talk about it. Recently I've been in a dry spot, but I think I'm getting out of it now. This article is really great. Thank you for helping boost my self confidence!

    I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

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  5. Thanks Rachel, I needed this one so many levels :) youre awesome,

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  6. I needed this so much! Thanks Rachel!

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  7. I REALLY needed to hear this message, yes, this very extremely wonderful message, this week! Thanks for the encouragement, Rachel! With that said, I've got some hard writing work to go do!

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  8. Lydia Grace HartJune 21, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    Could your timing have been any more perfect? I just got a kick in the butt (erm, encouragement :D) from my writer-sister, giving me inspiration, a schedule/program/thingy, and endless tips and encouragement. And I was sitting here working at it thinking, 'Can I really do this?'. So thank you :)

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  9. Gah, writer's confidence - something I strive to have!! Thanks for the incredible post, Rachel. I liked the part about not listening to the inner critic and instead thinking of those who cheer ou on. Very encouraging. I'm going to go work on my terrible rough draft and ENJOY it! :D

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  10. This is exactly what I needed today. How did you know?!

    Seriously, thank you, Rachel. You are such a marvelous inspiration to me. When I stare at my draft, thinking, "This is so pathetic it's disgusting. Why do I even bother writing anything? I'm wasting my time," several times I've thought of you and your lovely book. She did it - maybe I could do it. :)

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    1. Aw, that is the sweetest comment I have ever heard. Thank you so much--you've encouraged me today! ;)

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  11. Awesome post Rachel! I love it.....Only I dont tell that voice in my head to be quiet in such a nice way;)

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  12. Oops, accidentally hit publish before I was done :P
    I've let a few of my friends and siblings read my stuff, and they all give me critisism's but think I'm really good...I think I spelled that wrong....What really get's me is when someone gives me all this guff about my writing, then I read theirs and it's really not good...at all.

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  13. Great post, Rachel! And I love your new book title and cover. I almost thought it was you on the cover when I first saw it!

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  14. Rachel, I can't even begin to tell you how encouraging that was. I literally sat back at my desk after reading and went, "Whew, I needed that."

    "Even if nothing ever comes of it and you create nothing but terrible, unpublishable mush---it will have been worth it. Because you will have spent a lifetime doing something you love. And what could possibly give you more confidence than that?"

    Indeed. :)

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  15. Thank you so much! I was about to just give up and trash my story, but then I saw this and it's really motivated me to keep trying. :)

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    1. I'm so happy to hear that, Anonymous! So glad it was an encouragement! :)

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  16. Thank you, this really is motivating. I've been writing since I was 12 and it's been five years. My friends always tell me that they love my stories but I doubt their words because I feel that they know how important writing is to me and they don't want to hurt me.
    I wasn't going to give up on writing, EVER but it's good to know that I'm not the only one in the pool of insecurities.

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  17. I am writing my first book, and chapter one is going bad. It's more difficult because my mom doesn't believe in me. She thinks I'm wasting my time by writing "stupid things". My friends tell me it is good, and when I shared my blurb they told me they want to read the book. Thank you so much!

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    1. I was told the same some time ago by my mom that writing is a waste of time and it's never going to get me anywhere but I didn't stop and I completed my novel. Now, she supports me!
      So, the point is...don't stop what you love to do! :)

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  18. Okay, I should bookmark this. This is great, and honestly, I've felt like this so much. I'm convinced I'm doing everything wrong, and I don't have an interesting setting, and there's not much conflict . . . the list goes on. Thanks again! I owe all of you guys. If I get published, I will totally acknowledge all of the Go Teen Writers' authors.

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  19. Wow, thanks so much. This is the number one reason why I never finish a novel because I lose confidence in myself and my ability to write something inspiring. I really needed this today, thanks a million.

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