Before you start reading, I’m sorry, but I feel I should warn you that this essay probably isn’t very good.
Not a great start, is it? Why should you invest your precious time in reading what I have to say if I—the author—think that it’s substandard? The problem often does not lie in the work itself but rather with the confidence of the writer; however, you as the reader are not to know that. You just see an apology for the inadequacy of the essay that you are about to peruse and switch off.
This is a habit that is becoming the norm for many writers, myself included. Some may say that it is Imposter Syndrome, others may complain that they have received rejections on submissions knocking their confidence, while others may have an entirely different reason for their over-the-top humility. Whatever the reason, it has to stop. Writers should be able to hold their heads high and promote their work, or they will jeopardise any chance they have of progressing in a tough business.
Speaking from a personal perspective, I find that my mind is confused by what constitutes ‘good’ writing. At school we study literature. These become beloved examples of how a novel should be constructed. They are not driven by action or adventure with fast moving stories but rather plotlines with depth. This is what my teenage self wanted to write, something that would be studied and cherished by future generations of bibliophiles.
Instead, I find that I am driven by all the things that literature is not supposed to be. Even my genres won’t behave themselves. Accepting that literary fiction is not my forte, I sit down to write a hard-hitting, gritty crime novel, and it comes out as soft and fluffy. The dreaded ‘chicklit.’ Although books that could be classified as so-called-chicklit make up one of the most commercially profitable and top-selling genres, books in that style seem to have a reputation for being lacklustre and inferior. I have actually witnessed people roll their eyes when they talk about it. So, automatically, when people ask me what I write, I find myself unable to look them in the face while I timorously utter, “I’m sorry, you probably wouldn’t like it.”
So how do we, as writers, break away from the self-abasement and show pride in what we have written? After all, we should be proud—we have created a piece of work that is unique to us. It may not be Shakespearian in content, but it is ours to own. I am going to focus on my personal confidence boosting checklist for novels, but the same principles will go for any piece of writing.
Firstly, do you like what you have written? By this, I don’t mean do you think that it is perfect—we are artists after all, we will never achieve perfection—but rather does it feel pleasing to you when you read it? If your work comes across as boring to you then the likelihood is that it will to others.
Do you have strong characters that develop during your story? Are they realistic enough to engage your audience or will they just come across as annoying or lifeless? We have to be honest with ourselves when asking these questions. Even if we have spent hours writing a character into the narrative, if their only role is to fill a shortfall on your word count then the reader will see through this. What about your plot? Does it have a strong storyline that has the reader risking being late to work because they have to read one more chapter, or does it just bob along, never reaching a destination?
Once you have your story complete then comes the bit where you eviscerate it again and again as you edit until your manuscript feels polished. At this point I tend to feel rather proud of myself. I am ready to show my work without the need for apology…until I read a piece that someone else has written and the gremlins creep back in. I think this other work is incredible and there is no way that my fledgling novel will ever be able to hold its own amongst such a discerning audience. This is misguided logic. Everyone has their own style; bookshops would be very boring places if every novel on the shelves contained the same approach to writing.
This is where knowing your market comes in. Not everybody likes the same stuff. I—controversially I’m sure—do not like jazz; I am a rock girl and cannot see the appeal in music that, to me, sounds like a cat walking across a piano. However, this does not mean that jazz has no place in society; many people love it and it has a colossal following. The same goes for writing. Just because someone does not like the genre that you write doesn’t mean that it’s worthless; others will perceive it very differently. Accept constructive critique and act upon the advice that you feel enhances your work, but also remember that they are just suggestions.
Have confidence, let others see your work, and most of all: don’t apologise. After all, how many potentially incredibly writers are out there who will never thrive because they lack the confidence to believe in themselves, or started their cover letter with an apology?
Now if I could just follow my own advice…
© 2020 Zoe Davies
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Having always been an avid reader, Zoe now writes fiction and poetry to relax and escape into her own reality for a while.