7 Ways To Stay Confident In Your Writing
Posted by Ruth Graham


For the purposes of this article, I won’t be looking at factual work, research documents, historical writing and the like.

This is aimed at those of us who dwell in the realm of fantasy. People who spent their time writing, pulling words and images from their heads and getting them on to paper in some kind of order. It’s an exhausting and lonely process, and when someone or something knocks your confidence, it’s hard to get it back.


Many years ago I had a great idea to write about a female comedienne who lost her nerve. Loosely based on my own experiences, it combined the worst and funniest of my memories, with fictional characters and plot development. My heroine, Ginny, faced the same issues I’d faced (poverty, lack of family support, doubts over what she was doing, the inability to hold down a relationship due to her unusual career, extreme loneliness, ) BUT her outcome was to be hugely different.

The story started on a very funny sketch (a true experience), when she was supporting a very well-known comic. Totally wrong for the audience, she ploughed on, ultimately enduring a hail of lager cans, until the comic himself came on, grabbed the microphone from her hand and implored to audience to, ‘give the poor cow a chance’.

From that opening scene, I led into a bit of her background, then fast-forwarded to another club scene, where she was enduring an equally bad time. The book detailed her highs and lows, all the while layering down more information, building her character and the characters of those around her. We could see from her interaction with her friends that she was a real grafter, not one to give up easily, but her choices (thanks to those issues), were a tad limited and sometimes not very wise. She had to keep going – there was nobody else to pay the bills and help her out. She was approaching middle age – she hadn’t ‘made it’ yet – and she felt time was running out.

Approximately a third into the book, things went very dark. I revealed why Ginny had chosen stand-up as a career, and how her dreadful beginnings had shaped her determination – even her toyings with suicidal tendencies. She was tired, doubting her choices and feeling trapped. It was the classic ‘tears of a clown’ kind of revelation, but I felt that the story justified it, and we needed to know she had these thoughts, as it would explain her behaviour later in the book.

I spent around 10 months developing the story, writing on a daily basis, literally slaving over the story. And then came my big break – I was introduced to an up-coming agent who was very connected and looking for new clients to take on.

I went in to meet him, and he seemed to like me – describing me as very saleable and a huge personality – all good so far!

About a month later, he dropped me a card. Very detailed – he’d obviously read it all, but after raising my spirits with his observations about ‘beautifully drawn scenes’, and ‘laugh out loud characters’, he then went on to say ….

“However, I felt the plot went very dark, all of a sudden. It was a real shock. I wasn’t expecting it, and it didn’t sit comfortably. If you fancy having a re-write, then I’d be happy to look at it again.”

I sat in a depressed heap for a couple of days (my boyfriend was, at this stage, insisting I went out and got a job as he couldn’t support me much longer). I begged for a bit more time whilst I got my thoughts together, then began again.

I re-drew her character and changed so many scenes, endeavouring to keep it all light and fluffy and laugh-along. I didn’t like the way it was going, but working on the belief that nobody wants to read a miserable tome, I kept going. However, Ginny seemed less of a character because I no longer believed in her.

And sadly – nor did the potential agent: “It’s obvious you’ve worked so hard on this – things have really developed. But I don’t identify with Ginny – the story just didn’t have that ‘special something’ that would enable me to believe in it enough to sell it on to someone else. So I’m going to have to pass.”

Now  I was REALLY gutted. The sickening realization was that, in trying to please someone else, I’d literally lost the plot. The story I’d begun, had been abandoned, in order to please someone else’s vision. Imagine if J K Rowling had done that every time she’d had a rejection. How many of those rich characters would have been lost? Would Harry Potter have ceased being a wizard, hung up his broom and maybe been a city trader instead – all because someone else hadn’t been able to ‘visualise’ the story?

I will never, ever do that again, but unfortunately, it was too late to retrieve all the work. There were so many changes, I couldn’t track them. I was tired, and more than a little defeated. And I had to go out and get a job to keep a roof over my head. I’ve picked myself up since then and had tons of published work, but I never want to go through that again.

If you’re struggling with your plot, here are a few bits of advice based on my experience: I’m about to show you 7 ways to stay confident in your writing.

  • 1) Plan Your Characters Well So You Know When It Starts to Feel Wrong
    Look at your characters – what foods do they like? Where do they hang out? What do they eat? Who do they know? What do they do for jobs (and what would they have done given the chance)? Look at their personality traits (and what formed them). Their ambitions, regrets, etc.. the list is endless.

I had a postcard for each one with a photo on, which helped me imagine how they would look (I found random pics on the internet for inspiration). I wrote ideas on the cards, little sayings them may have had (perhaps based on things I’d overheard). Bit by bit, I built them up. When your characters are solid, they are credible, you don’t ‘lose’ them along the way, and you’ll know when you’re asking them to do something that doesn’t ‘feel’ right.

2) Look At Their Motivations

It’s important to know why your characters are doing what they are doing. Rather than explaining something on the spot (for example – ‘Ginny slammed the table. She got angry, because she felt she was never listened to properly’), then demonstrate that she’s not listened to, by various examples through the book.

Show her being talked over, or her suggestions being ignored. It’s a much more organic way of telling the story and revealing layers of a character.

3) Know Your Outcomes

You don’t have to know exactly what happens in the end, but do have some sort of direction in mind. I wanted to show that Ginny was ultimately defeated by her initial issues. They were just too great – it was a sad, poignant ending that would hopefully show how hard the job was. It was also to highlight the issue of mental health problems, and how they are swept under the carpet. I even had the final line in my head! Quite how I was to get there, I didn’t know – but it helped guide me in the right direction (until the agent scuppered that!). Also see my blog on  using the ‘washing line method’ to plan your plot out (See May 2015 – Creative Ways of Writing) .

4) Don’t Share Your Story With People Who Don’t Understand

I have a friend who is a total depressive. Every time I get a great idea, she shrugs it off with ‘what do you want to do that for?”, ‘You’re mad you are”, “God – the things you come out with”… and the like. She could take the wind out of a tin of beans. And then I realised, that it was a pointless exercise. She doesn’t ‘get’ me. She doesn’t understand why I write, or what I’m trying to achieve. So ultimately she’s useless for me to run a plot by, or ask advice.

I made the same mistake with my ex (the one who made me get a job!) He had a geek mindset. He didn’t do humour, or street language, or ‘light’ reading. Again – wrong audience.

It’s ultimately about seeking approval, getting an interim pat on the back. But we don’t need it. Stand by your beliefs, develop the story and then…..

5) Seek Advice From Those Who Know

Don’t do this too early in the process, but someone who is an established writer, could maybe provide you with a technique or two that would be helpful. Or ask some insightful queries to help you shape your story.

6) Take A Break From Your Normal Writing

And just write something else – for fun. Something short and snappy. A poem, or a blog – but make sure it’s something for others to read – for public consumption. This will keep you focused and ensure it’s of a decent standard, but it will garner you some feedback that you probably need at this stage in your writing.

7) Make sure you are 100% confident in what you send out

Never send out work you are not sure of. No excuses. You have to put it in the post knowing it is absolutely the best it can be. Be happy to revise it, edit it, tweak it if required (when it’s accepted), but not before.

All these suggestions above should help you develop a story and characters that are strong, and keep your confidence intact.

Take your time, write as much as you need to write, and then take a break. Next stage is to edit well – or get someone to help you at this stage, and then put it out there. If someone doesn’t like it, you should, at this stage, have the conviction in your work that you’ve done something good and believable. Do not be swayed if you genuinely believe that.

Good luck!!