Find Your Writing Confidence, No Alcohol Required

Find Your Writing Confidence, No Alcohol Required

Everyone’s acquainted with the monotone singsong of the AA’s introduction being rattled off, so do me a favor and imagine that when you read the following sentence:

Hello-my-name-is-Kathy-and-I’m-a-writer.

I’ve written three novels (two of which have been published internationally). I have a university degree. I’ve been a copywriter for almost 20 years now.

I can write.

And yet.

As I sit at my desk to start work, there’s always a little barb in the back of my mind that wonders, “Is today the day my talent runs out?”

For years I thought I was alone with this crippling self-doubt, but recently a writer friend admitted she felt the same. And then another did the same. And then I Googled it and saw my computer struggle not to crash under the weight of the “crippling self-doubt writer” results.

It’s no wonder some of the greatest writers we’ve ever known were alcoholics.

Think Ernest Hemmingway, Dylan Thomas, Dorothy Parker. I’m not up to speed with each of their childhood issues, but I’d take a good guess that at least some of that addiction was an attempt to relieve the pressure of writing, to silence that little barb in their minds that told them that they might not be as good as they thought they were and that any moment someone was going to find out.

Alcohol is one way to make that voice in your head be quiet, but it’s not an ideal one. Setting aside the part where you can do irreparable damage to the very brain that got you into the writing business, it’s not a health way to deal with the stress of the world (or the writing life).

But for writers, are there other options? What works to make the doubt be quiet so we can get down to the business of hammering out copy for websites or ads for air conditioners or hey, even that novel we’ve got locked a drawer somewhere?

You can try the “suck it up, sweetheart” approach, which works to a point, but it’s not much fun after you get over the giggle of saying it in a James Cagney accent. It’s a daily battle with yourself, and eventually you run out of scrappiness. You look for a way to get out of the fight altogether.

Which brings us to Option B:

Admit that writing is hard. Admit that it comes with doubt. Admit that this is not the easiest life path you’ve chosen for yourself.

And give yourself a freakin’ break.

Find an activity that lets you relax and turn your mind off. Some of you eyed the alcohol when I said that – “have a drink after work” seems like a great way to unwind, and those of you who feel particularly social might even add “with friends” on the end.

But again: you’re not looking for a way to kill the brain cells; you’re looking for a way to pep them up and make them feel that the world is a pretty dandy place, especially when it allows you to write for a living.

Raise some chickens. Plant herbs on the windowsill. Start meditation. Go for a walk or a run or a swim or a climb a rock wall. Learn how to refinish furniture or knit or blow glass. Heck, do something totally pointless and relaxing: run a bath, stare into a crackling fire, cuddle up with your honeybun.

Do something that occupies your mind so that it doesn’t have any spare energy to fret.

While you’re at it, you’ll have the satisfaction of an activity you enjoy, something that has none of the weighty associations of keeping up your writing talent. You just learned how to stain a shelf – congratulations. You’re not worried about losing that skill forever tomorrow, are you?

Of course you’re not.

That gives you perspective. You’re not going to lose your talents overnight. Tomorrow, you’ll still know how to feed the chickens. You’ll still know how to run a bath.

And you know what? You’ll still know how to write, and write well. Go to.

Post by Kathy Wilson

Kathy Wilson is a writer who got tired of out-of-control thoughts controlling her life and ruining her writing. When she couldn't find a website that would help her - she created one herself. Find out more at My Diamond Days or at Kathy's Facebook page.

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  1. Enrico Foschi says:

    Excellent post Kathy. Any creative activity has its blanks. It’s very important to recognize them, accept them and relax your brain in order to get back up to speed. Physical exercise, simple-matic tasks and meditation help a lot!

    • Thanks Enrico. The more I talk with people about this – the more I am fascinated by how different people find their “relaxation mode”. One guy I spoke to said you does it by training his dobermans! Like most things – no right or wrong way – just your way.

  2. Kathy, you can definitely write. Great title, “raise some chickens”–LOL!

    I think we all wonder if we have any talent, if we are wasting our time and kidding ourselves. Actually, my confidence only improved after James’ Damn Fine Words writing course. Stiff practice instead of a stiff drink–cheers!

    • Hi Mary Love that – “stiff practice instead of a stiff drink.” It’ll make you feel so much better in the morning. And I can’t tell you how much pleasure I get out of my chickens – they just do their thing. Day after day.

  3. Thanks, Kathy. Nice post. I spent a lot of my early years thinking drinking and writing were part of the same process. It seemed that all the writers I loved best were known for their alcohol intake as much as their literary output. In the end, I found I was forgetting that writers need to write. Drunk in charge of a typewriter can easily cause mayhem – and wins few prizes.

    Steven Pressfield’s latest book on the struggles to be a pro writer – Turning Pro – deals at some length with the problems of addiction and why writers turn to alcohol (or other substances) when all the fear and self-doubt surfaces. And, as you say, that battle with fear and doubt is a daily thing. Stephen King and other prolific writers still face that battle every morning. They win it by sitting down and doing the job – getting the words down – in spite of the doubts. That is what Pressfield believes makes the difference between the pro and the amateur writer: it’s not the absence of fear but the doing it and spitting in fear’s face.

    • I’m a Pressfield fan too. He jolts me out of my crippling fear/down days/apathy… Your last line says it for me: ‘Doing it and spitting in fear’s face’. All I have to do is get to the keyboard without detouring to the kitchen (fridge/coffee…) …

  4. It’s dangerous when people make associations between art, creative writing and alcohol because it gives writers who have issues with drinking or substance dependency outside of their writing the golden pass the feed their habit. Edgar Allan Poe, one of the greatest American writers, drank heavily and died of alcohol poisoning. Admitting that writing is hard is the more level-headed approach. Moreover, writers need to credit their creativity to themselves and not alcohol.

  5. Hi Graham It is terribly disappointing when you write way into the night with a bottle of wine beside you thinking you are a genius only to read it the next morning and realise it is horrible. Took me a long time to realise you’ve just got to get up and keep on keeping on!

  6. Well done – great article. I have shared this on Twitter. Hope that’s OK?

  7. @Kathy: This post works so well because you’re an “established” writer who reveals how the demons won’t ever stop pestering and we need to stay ever vigilant. Solid post.

    P.S. Add writing prompts to your list too (James does).

  8. Thank you for this post. I actually needed to read this right now. I was sitting there contemplating the day and wondering whether I will manage to do any writing today, and to escape my self-doubt I clicked onto my googlereads page and saw your blog. Now I’m going to my word document and hopefully a big word count will be finished by the end of today. Thank you!

    • So glad this post helped – even just a bit. Not such an easy gig being a writer but when it is going well, it is awesome. Hang in there. I really believe perseverance pays off.

  9. Your timing and article are spot on! I just printed, read and sent to my pda two articles on getting out of my own head and relinquishing the ego in an effort to quiet my doubts and fears about writing tonight and tomorrow and . . . The thought of Bacardi also entered my mind, then I thought better of it. Thank you.

    Signed

    Stacey

  10. Diana Stowers says:

    Love this post Kathy! And My Diamond Days I now know is a great place to go – thankyou – crippling self doubt be gone! For all who need to still the mind and take control of their thoughts on a regular basis subscribe now, cheap, cheerful and so beneficial…

  11. I can’t say I have ever tried to write under the influence of alcohol, although I have certainly done many other things under the influence! But inspiration can certainly come from letting the mind go to places it hasn’t been before, I prefer music or doing something I have never done before. sometimes I like my music heavy . Nick Cave, Portishead, it helps me get into the Zone, I have to get deep and I have to get high somehow.
    At the beginning of the year I did a drawing for beginners course just to try and do some other activity that i knew I wasn’t very good at but was still a creative process
    I’m still not very good at drawing but I may do another class in that or something entirely different. I don’t think it matters, what is important is being creative in any shape or form, I think it helps to give you a sense of confidence in that you can make something out of nothing.
    Recently I went to a Tracy Emmin exhibition in Margate U.K. and thought well, my drawings ain’t much worse!!

    On a serious note, if you do hit the bottle in despair, then make a note of what it is you find so difficult and get a mentor or someone to discuss your mental block.

    all the best
    julie

  12. Kathy, thank you so much for an awesome post! I am a musician/songwriter in addition to being a blogger, and both areas are tough, tough environments for alcohol (and other recreational substances) and creative expression. Fortunately I already practice many of the things you suggest and I try to stay healthy, so I’m not hugely tempted by alcohol.

    That may also partially be because I’ve seen the damage it has inflicted on my friends and family.

    Everyone without exception has the fears and self-doubts. I so agree, we’re not looking for a way to kill the brain cells, we’re looking for a way to pep them up and see that the world is a pretty dandy place.

    The good thing is that articles like this really do help to build awareness and change lives. I will be sharing this for sure!

  13. Jeree Petrie says:

    After reading your article I’m going to make a sign to hang over my desk that says ‘Writing is Hard’. I think one of the biggest reasons for lack of confidence in one’s self as a writer is the idea that if you are any good at it you ought to find it easy to do; that If you’re really cut out to be a writer you should leap out of bed in the morning, fly to your desk and rip through 5,000 words before breakfast, not decide that you really must clean the toilet/de-flea the cat/unbend those paperclips or just plain hide under the bed so you don’t have to face that scary thing in the word processor that sounds as if it was written by a three year old with learning difficulties on a bad day in the dark. But if you accept that writing IS HARD – well then, no wonder you find it difficult. It’s SUPPOSED to be difficult. Knowing that, I might still want to hide under the bed, but I can do so happy in the knowledge that I’m only a coward – not a hopelessly inadequate writer :)

    • I understand where you’re coming from, Jeree, but I have to disagree. Inserting a limiting belief in your mindset that writing is hard will turn it into a solid truth for you – and it will become harder, and harder, and harder, the more the belief gets ingrained. It’s a sure and certain path to writer’s block!

      You can absolutely be good at something without it being difficult – your mindset and beliefs definitely create influence on the levels of difficulty you’ll experience. For example, if I decided I wanted to learn to play piano and that it would be hard, it definitely would be! But if I decided I wanted to learn to play piano, and opened my mind to learning, assuming that I might be a little rough at first but with practice would find it increasingly easier… see the difference in the potential end result?

      Writing isn’t supposed to be hard. What we believe about it makes it so – and without beliefs that it’s a difficult skill to learn, it becomes easy.

      Hope that helps!

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