The Confidence Paradox: Telling Yourself Your Words Matter (but do you mean it?)

I write because I love words. More specifically, I love what words can do. Stringing a few together can create a sentence, and within that sentence, endless possibilities. A metaphor ripe with magic. Tastes and sounds and smells unfurling from the page. A feeling evoked with such precision that I feel it in my bones. Like many writers, I’ve been feasting on words since I was a kid, cutting my teeth on Goosebumps and Animorphs and Island of the Blue Dolphins. These stories impacted me on different levels—emotional, creative—to the point that my nine-year-old self thought, “Huh. I wonder if I can do that?”


I’ve been trying ever since.


We all know writing is hard. I mean, hard. We’ve got to be disciplined. We’ve got to make the time to write, despite daily responsibilities and distractions. We’ve got to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and spin linguistic gold. But what I find the most challenging isn’t the writing itself (because, as we know, initial drafts are crap); it’s my self-confidence.


I have spoken with so many people who claim that first drafts are the easiest. We’re telling ourselves the story. There’s really no pressure, because we’re writing for us. It’s going to be junk anyway, so just write. Right? Now, don’t get me wrong; I value this advice. We can’t be perfectionists while writing the first draft, after all. And even though I am a perfectionist, drafting always boils down to how I feel about myself as a writer. Some days, I’m on this incredible high. I’ll write two, three, sometimes four-thousand words in a few hours. I’ll spend time with a character and discover something so insanely cool about her that it changes the dynamics of the story for the better.


Then there are those days where I stare at my screen and wonder what the heck I’m doing. I’ll ask myself, “Does this story really matter? Will people want to read this? Can I even write?” And my all-time favorite: “I will NEVER finish writing this novel.” I don’t mean polishing it in revision; I mean drafting. Period.


These are my dark days. We all have them. We all question our work. Perhaps I should take comfort in that shared struggle, but usually my confidence weakens even more. “If she’s questioning her work,” I’ll think, “then I’m just fooling myself.” It’s terribly debilitating and self-sabotaging. It’s not healthy, and I know it.


But knowing something and making an effort to adjust it are two entirely different beasts. I know I can write this story, but thinking I’ll actually finish it one day is mind-boggling. Scary. Unbelievable. Short stories are one thing, but a novel . . . Whew. I’m constantly reminding myself that my words matter, my words matter, my words matter . . . if not for anyone else, then truly for myself. Even on my dark days when I don’t believe myself, I repeat this mantra. Otherwise, I’ll give up, which would be the biggest travesty of all. Two years into writing this novel, I owe it to my characters to finish it. It doesn’t matter if nothing becomes of this story, if it atrophies in a drawer somewhere. I will have done it. I’m doing it. You, as a writer, are doing it. Writers the world over are penning their stories, whatever the outcome.


So, slay that self-doubt beast. Shove it into the dark corner of your mind and muzzle it. Our words matter because they are ours. Because stories have power. Because characters are life-changing. Because we have voices that deserve to be heard, whether by the world or in our own hearts.


What’s more wonderful than that?

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