by Helen C. Holt
Most freelance writers aren’t getting enough gigs (or well-paying gigs), plain and simple. But—and this is the important thing to realize—we don’t make the appropriate connections between our confidence and our results.
In my article, The 5 Step Beginner’s Guide to Overcoming Writer’s Depression, I covered this problem, discussed how writing blocks work, and shared a variety of practical ways to improve the quality of the writer's life. If you’re looking for a primer on ways to overcome writer’s depression, I ever-so-gently nudge you toward reading that article.
However, if you want to improve your writing, there are actually some very simple and practical ways to go about it. I call these strategies the 3 Laws of Writing.
Here’s how they work…
If you want to improve the quality of your writing and boost your performance, there are 3 Laws you can “activate” to give yourself a boost:
1. Law of Deliberate Thinking
2. Law of Rituals
3. Law of Perseverance
Law of thinking refers to how you think (who woulda guessed?) As I described in detail in another article, there are different phases of thought. Two of these phases are particularly important: Deliberate thought (also known as conscious thought) and Subconscious thought (or Subliminal thought). The percentage of thinking time you spend in these two phases largely determines the quality of your writing.
Because your mind is your most powerful tool for your writing. Deliberate thought is when you consciously are aware of what you’re thinking (as you’re thinking it) and actively choosing which thoughts to dwell upon. Subconscious thought is the opposite, a “tape loop” that runs its programs upon triggers from external stimuli.
Both are important but one is active thought and one is passive. If you’re not writing how you want to write, if your confidence in yourself as a writer is low, then you need to tap into Deliberate thought (active) to control—and create—new thoughts that serve you well.
Law of Rituals refers to when you write (and don’t write). It means the things you do consistently that work to help you improve. What time of day do you write best? This factor is important for two reasons:
First, if you get in some kind of habit around the same time each day, it is easier for your mind to develop good automatic writing habits. Second, the time you write should be in accordance with your circadian rhythm, which I also describe in detail in my 10 Writing Rituals article.
Law of Perseverance refers to how long you write. This one is simple: how much time do you spend writing each day? 30 minutes? 2 hours? As an artist, it can be easy to convince yourself that duration isn’t very important, that inspiration is the key to your success. But perseverance is critical to your growth, performance, and success.
But it’s not just about the length of time you sit at a computer. I’m sure you’ve heard that one before and are rolling your eyes in frustration. Yeah, yeah, write every day, you groan…Been there, done that. Life, however has other plans.
True, true. If sitting down at your computer for an uninterrupted hour every day was that easy, everybody would be doing it. I also experience this, as some days I’m not “on” and writing anything feels more like a dry heave after a night of heavy drinking than divine inspiration.
What really makes the difference between you and all the other writers out there is your perseverance. As the saying goes, “A good writer is one that didn’t quit”. That means you KEEP GOING despite the rejection emails, the lapse in creative juices, the months or years rolling by without steady work…
The formula is so simple it’s hard: You persevere until you’re where you want to be.
Many times I’ve felt like I just wanted to trash my laptop and live under a bridge like a hobo (or worse thoughts than that) but the reality is, your moment—if you persevere—can be any second, any minute any day. You’ll open your email inbox and that Fortune 500 Company’s email is sitting there with a huge contract. You’ll get that message on your answering machine while you were at the grocery store from your literary agent saying a publisher wants your book.
One email, one phone call, one person you bump into at an event—can be that moment that changes your life forever.
That’s why you keep going. Sure, you can argue that not everyone’s going to make it. Or that working hard and long doesn’t guarantee success.
But one thing’s for sure—you’ll never have a chance to make the winning shot if you drop out of the game.
How can you use these 3 Laws to improve your writing?
When it comes to your thoughts, the truth is that there isn’t much you can do about random pop-ups in your head. You can use your conscious mind to manage the intensity and duration of those thoughts, however. You do this by being aware of what you’re thinking and deciding if that thought is productive or destructive for you.
It’s extremely hard to do at first, but after awhile it becomes second nature. We have an estimated 30,000 thoughts a day, so it’s impossible to track every one. But we can “quarantine” toxic thought patterns that are embedded in the subconscious mind.
Examples of toxic thoughts are:
- I’m a fraud pretending to be a writer. I’m not a REAL writer. I’m just pretending. What if one of the people who hires me find out?
- I’m never going to succeed. It’s too hard. There’s not enough work out there for every writer to be financially secure.
These toxic thoughts were most likely embedded deep in your subconscious during childhood.
My article on the subconscious mind explains how our “knee-jerk” thought patterns come from the subconscious mind. But here I want to emphasize that you can recognize those patterns and do something positive about it. Because your thoughts have a strong correlation with your future reality. In part, this is because your thoughts precede your actions and if you think being a successful writer is “too hard” then it’s almost impossible to do the things necessary to achieve what you desire when facing challenges. When the challenge presents itself, you think it’s too hard and shut down.
This is actually good news because it simplifies things for you. Because you only need to focus on two factors: timing (when you have those thoughts) and duration (how long you dwell on them).
If we make another assumption, then we can simplify the situation even further. That assumption is this: You think approximately the same thoughts each day regarding your writing. And those thoughts are what’s driving you to succeed (or holding you back). They also are what’s feeding (or starving) your confidence.
If you have the same thoughts (and subsequent feelings) at about the same time each day, then your perseverance is basically determined by the quality of thoughts you’re thinking at certain moments. Generally speaking, if you catch yourself thinking self-defeating thoughts that erode your confidence early on before you start spiraling downward into depression and insecurity, then you’ll end up writing better.
Signs of a Confident Writer
When I first started out, one thing I noticed in the writing world was the strong undercurrent of low self-esteem and self-confidence. This culture of pauperish second-class citizenship has got to go in my opinion. If there are writers out there who are willing to slave away in sweat shops—I mean content mills—then all of us in the marketplace are screwed.
Think of it this way: one person buys a house for 500 grand, another pays a dollar. It’s the same house. Why? Because monetary value is not intrinsic. It is based on what someone is willing to buy and sell for something.
Here are 3 Signs of a Confident Writer:
1. Confident writers don’t think making money is a sin. They expect to be paid what they’re worth. They don’t dwell on thoughts about being a fraud and not being good enough. Most- if not all- of us have those thoughts but we choose not to hone in on them for too long. We understand that the people and/or companies we write for are not doing us a favor. We are providing them with a valuable service-using our ideas and intellectual property. We are marketers for businesses who help create and execute Brands and convert people into customers. So confident writers have a high sense of self-worth. This is critical to anyone trying to “make it” in the writing business (or any business, for that matter).
2 Confident Writers focus on things that reinforce their confidence (and their skillset). I learned quickly to avoid writers who talk that same old “Pauper” talk. Especially online, where I connect with writers through social mediums. That loser writer’s mentality is infection. Instead, seek out confident writers that currently have (and talk about) the success you envision for yourself. These types are not afraid to talk about money and how to make more of it. Confident writers saturate their minds with success. Focus on listening to music, watching television, reading books that will reinforce your confidence level and improve your craft. There are plenty of free material out there that you can use to reinforce how to be a better writer.
3. Confident Writers take risks. There’s a saying that goes: “Jump and grow wings on the way down”. Too many writers hover around the “I’m gonna be” stage. They take course after course, seminar after seminar, book after book thinking, “eh, not ready yet”.
Writing is an industry that is unique in the sense that there is no college or trade school certificate of completion to demonstrate you’re worthy of being called a professional. In this business, you have to learn and train as you go. I call it paying dues. Since we writers are sensitive to criticism and hate making mistakes, we often get stuck in writing purgatory, waiting for that magical sparkly moment when the clouds part and the ray of sunbeam hits our face and a voice booms, “Now you’re ready.” But confidence doesn’t work that way. Writing confidence is built over time with experience.
So build your skills—and your confidence—write now.
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