building confidence – #WhatImWriting

Confidence can be a slippery beast. As a writer, I find it can ebb and flow like the tide, rushing in to joyfully knock me off my feet when I’m in the zone (‘Yes! this is going brilliantly!’) and then retreating to the horizon when it comes to showing my work to anyone else (‘Argh! They might think it’s rubbish!’).

waves darkAdmittedly, I’m getting better at keeping my feet wet these days. When I first set up this blog two and a half years ago I published two posts, didn’t mention to anyone that I’d written them (I’m not sure I’d even joined Twitter at that point) then within 24 hours I took them down and ran away from the blog for a whole year… and all because I was too scared of people reading ANYTHING I’d written. Even when I finally plucked up the courage to start writing and publishing posts, it took me a while longer to start posting any of my poetry or fiction because, well… what if people hated it? What if they confirmed my darkest fears and said, “Think you can write?! Ha! You’ll never get anywhere!”?

But I finally took the leap and did post my creative writing and people weren’t like that at all; they were lovely. And that’s one of the things I’ve found in the blogging world over the last eighteen months, in general, people are just that: lovely. They leave lovely comments and send lovely tweets. They support you and appreciate the support you offer them. They become your friends. Oh what a lot of time and worry I could have saved myself if I’d assumed that from the start!

I was thinking about this last week when I was lucky enough to find myself at a confidence building/media training workshop run by Jon Hammond. Now, you might be thinking ‘confidence workshop? Is that the sort of thing where you’re forced to do horrible exercises that make you really uncomfortable in order to overcome your fears?’ And I did have an awful thought en-route to the workshop that maybe I would be made to stand on a rooftop shouting “I’m a strong, confident woman!” to passers-by. Eeep. But thankfully my fears were unfounded and no rooftop declarations were necessary to ensure the sense of confidence I came out of the session with.

statue in paris

NOT me making an announcement from the top of a building (although the likeness is uncanny).

Jon spoke about human beings’ natural fear of new situations (which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective) and how such situations can send us into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Just as our ancestors would have reacted to the approach of a woolly mammoth with fear, we now view the prospect of public speaking – or often any other event that involves a crowd of unknown people – with the same fear. We spoke about how counter-productive this is – you’re never going to give the best presentation or make the best impression on people when you’re viewing them as a hoard of marauding beasts that need to be escaped from or jabbed with a spear!

Although the workshop was based around public speaking I think this idea applies equally well to confidence about writing. Ok, the actual writing bit doesn’t usually have us running scared but what’s the point of being writer if no one ever reads anything we write? And it’s the ‘being read’ that normally provokes those flight or flight responses. Sometimes we give up before we’ve even tried, view our potential readers as those scary beasts and don’t even put our work out there.

He's coming to get you! RUN!

He’s coming to get you! RUN!

To overcome some of this, rather than seeing an audience as a threat, Jon suggested that when meeting new people – or putting ourselves in front of an audience of any sort  – we think of them as friends. That we approach them as ourselves and not put up a false-front based on how we think we should be behaving. That we don’t wind ourselves up beforehand about how awful it’s going to be but instead tell ourselves ‘oh, this is going to be enjoyable, I’m going to have some lovely chats.’ or something of the sort.

Obviously this is easier said than done for those of us who tend to lurk by the snack table at the back. But thinking both positively and logically, the chances are, when you approach people in a friendly way (rather than avoiding conversation and hoping to be mistaken for a pot plant) they will reciprocate. As I discovered with blogging, despite my fear of looking like a talentless idiot, most people don’t remotely treat you this way. If you’re friendly, they’ll be friendly back. And before you know it you’re just talking to friends and, well, what’s scary about that?

Let's be friends (but maybe not lick each other).

Let’s be friends! (But maybe not lick each other.)

Still, when Jon first encouraged us to take this approach I think there was a certain amount of ‘yeah, great, but that’s easy for you to say, you’re all confident and stuff – this comes naturally to you’. And who could blame us? But nope. Turns out Jon’s shy. You’d never believe it because he doesn’t act like it. He doesn’t act like it because he’s realised this approach works and he’s used it… and in using it, it’s become second nature. You know that whole thing about ‘when you act a part for long enough then it stops being acting’? That. Only all you need to do is act like the natural self you are with family and friends. You’re just having the confidence to be that you with people you don’t know.

Another thing that helped me here was Jon’s message to ‘be your audience.’ Whether you’re doing a presentation to a room full of people, going before a small interview panel, or submitting a book to an agent, think of things from their point of view. Put yourself in their shoes. Empathise. It’s much easier to make a connection with people that way and the idea of them as friends immediately feels more genuine.

There was masses more involved in the workshop (and Jon has written a book about his methods if you’re interested) but a final message that resonated for me was if you’re nervous about a situation or a decision, to challenge yourself with, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’. Many of us live our lives held back by various fears, imagining somehow that if we say this or do that then someone might laugh at us, or be mean, or that we’ll feel stupid etc. etc. ad infinitum. The reality is often far from this and we could be missing out on all sorts of positive possibilities: that someone might find us funny (in a good way) or be kind to us or make us feel really clever or appreciated. We miss out on so much because we’re scared. I know I have done.

But not anymore!

Well… at least let’s say it’s the start of my journey to that destination anyway. I was certainly on a bit of a high after the session. I felt really inspired and imbued with a sense of, ‘Yes! I can do this! I WILL get published!’ Half way through the drive home I almost pulled into a layby to record the awesome ideas of awesomeness I was convinced would take me to my own book signings within the year.

Of course I calmed down and reality set in. Book signings are still a distant dream and my ideas now seem only tinged with a glint of awesomeness rather than being being the all-out dazzling awesome I considered at the time. But, BUT, that little tinge is enough. The fire has been lit under the idea and it’s now flickering away enticingly. A plan has begun to form in my mind. It involves limericks and illustrations and self-publishing. It involves educating, developing and promoting myself. It involves ‘becoming my audience’, working out what they need and how to give it to them. And most of all it involves not being scared.

What’s the worst that could happen? The worst that could happen is that I never have the confidence to try.

And that, my friends, is quite simply not an option.

***

***I just wanted to share this stuff with you. This is not in any sense a sponsored post (although Jon, If you’re reading, I do like After Eights ;) )***

Muddled Manuscript

 

Linking to #ThePrompt which, this week is “To be a… “. Confidence is all about the ability to be whoever or whatever you want to be! (this post also could have fitted with either of the prompts for the last two weeks too but I didn’t get it written in time… )
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31 thoughts on “building confidence – #WhatImWriting

  1. Rebecca Ann Smith

    Thanks for sharing this advice, Maddy. You’re right that most people you meet online are lovely – I’m naturally quite nervous about sharing my thoughts and opinions online, but it’s been a much more civilised and supportive experience than I expected, even when I’ve posted something controversial and people have disagreed with me. Looking forward to meeting you at your book signing (if not before!) Limericks and illustrations sounds great.

    Reply
    1. Maddy Post author

      Thanks Becky! Book signing may be a fair while off yet but hopefully we’ll meet before then! Glad your blogging experience has been positive too. xx

      Reply
  2. Mummy Tries

    Great post Maddy, I feel rather privileged to be on this journey with you my lovely! Fear can certainly hold us back in life, and overcoming it involves facing it, and embracing it. Scary stuff…

    I’m so excited to hear about your plan, and cannot wait to buy your little book of limericks xx

    Reply
    1. Maddy Post author

      Aw Reneé, what a lovely thing to say! The journey’s so much easier (and more fun) with people like you alongside. xx

      Reply
  3. Iona@redpeffer

    Lovely post and with such an important message. Actually, you’ve reminded me that I instinctively approach everyone as friends too, to overcome my shyness. I’d forgotten that amongst all the other stuff I’m currently swamped by. Thank you for the reminder and for the reassurance that this in fact a really good approach (I always worried it made me naive.)
    I hope it does carry over into your writing and sustains you through the rockier moments x

    Reply
  4. Nicola Young

    This is good sound advice. Thanks for sharing it with us. You could almost be standing up and giving us a motivational speech! What made you go to this workshop in the first place, was it something you searched out because of your fears?

    Reply
    1. Maddy Post author

      If I was standing up it would be much less fluent (and possibly delivered from behind a pot plant)! I was offered it through work and figured it was too good an opportunity to miss! So useful in all areas of life. Thanks for commenting Nicola xx

      Reply
  5. Emily Organ

    That sounds like it was a brilliant and very useful day, I could have done with going myself. I can understand all his advice about being confident. My only stumbling block with acting like someone new I’m meeting is a friend is my my mind goes totally blank in those situations! I cannot think of a single thing to say. Something I’ve still not mastered at my advanced age. There’s a lot here you can apply to writing so it’s brilliant you’ve found it useful. Keep that positive vibe going!

    Reply
    1. Maddy Post author

      I know what you mean about your mind going blank – I can switch between that and just random gabbling! I think the idea is the more you think in that way and the more you practice, the better you get. We’ll get there in the end! Thanks Emily xx

      Reply
    1. Maddy Post author

      Thanks Chrissie! Glad they made you laugh – it felt a bit serious without the pics! And I’m not the only one that will be published – go on… you can , you can, you can!

      Reply
  6. Carol Cameleon

    Sounds like a great workshop Maddy, thanks for sharing this with us. It’s so true that our fears are very often (almost) unfounded. But it’s getting over that ‘founded’ bit isn’t it? Pushing ourselves to believe in our abilities, in our own worth and then staring ‘fear’ in the face and sticking your tongue out at it! How ruded ;) Oh and I love After Eights too, just for the record. It’s great to see you linking up to #WonderfulWorldofWriting, thanks :)

    Reply
  7. Hannah Barnes

    A great piece of writing Maddy I really enjoyed reading it! After also attending the session with Jon, you reminded me of all the inspirational comments and ideas from the day.
    You can definitely do this! :)
    Lots of love, Hannah x

    Reply
  8. Clare

    Yay Maddy!! Great post.
    You had me nodding emphatically, smiling at the funny pics, & getting all excited for your upcoming book :) Hoorah for feeling the fear & doing it anyway.
    Clare x

    Reply
  9. Louise Fairweather

    Some great messages there. I wouldn’t call myself a writer as such but I have made the decision that I need to be proud of the writing I do and not tell people that I don’t work – when in reality I do. I have to say I have always liked your writing.

    Reply
    1. Maddy Post author

      I think if you’re a blogger you’re a writer and you certainly should be proud! I think there are far too many of us who never mention our blogging (outside of blogging circles) even though it’s a major part of our lives. I’m going to try and be more open from now on. Thanks so much for your kind words about my writing Louise. xx

      Reply
  10. Sophie Lovett

    So much good advice! I do find though that it very much depends on the status of my mental elf as to how much I can put things like this into practice though… Some days I feel like I can take on the world and others I’m shy and awkward even with my friends! I guess the trick is being able to draw on the ‘good days’ feeling when it really matters… X

    Reply
    1. Maddy Post author

      I know what you mean Sophie but yes, I think if we practice it then we can get better at being ‘us on a good day’ even on a bad day! xx

      Reply
  11. Kirsten Toyne

    We do limit ourselves and it is a shame to hide our talents behind fear. It is strange because once we do those things we fear they no longer seem that much at all. In many ways if we keep pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone then we keep growing and it doesn’t have to be big stuff but small things. When we reach an emotional road block, then being kind to ourselves and looking at what we believe about ourselves, can help free us from the grip of fear and see the reality. Great post, a lovely read.

    Reply
    1. Maddy Post author

      Exactly Kirsten – I posted a link to this blog post on my personal FB page the other day. It felt like a huge thing to do because I tend to hide that side of me. Nothing bad happened, just some lovely feedback – what on earth was I so scared of? The only way to progress is to step outside our comfort zone – you’re right. Thanks so much for commenting. x

      Reply
  12. Sara | mumturnedmom

    Such a great post, it sounds like a fabulous workshop. I think fear of trying is hugely limiting, but such a difficult thing to learn to overcome. It’s interesting to read that Jon is shy and ‘faked’ his confidence until it became second nature, I really do believe that works. Inspiring stuff, thank you so much for sharing with #ThePrompt (and yes it could have easily been linked to the last two as well!) x

    Reply
    1. Maddy Post author

      Thanks Sara and I agree about the shyness thing – I actually found Jon more motivating knowing that about him! thanks for another great prompt. x

      Reply
  13. Becky Cowley

    Great post with lots of advice! I have had freedom in writing ’cause I really don’t think that many people read it, in that end I write for myself. My poems especially, which my usual blog audience who come to see what the baby has been up to and my daft videos aren’t expecting, is written for me so I don’t have that fear of people liking or not liking it, i’m not sure that even makes sense!
    I look forward to seeing your journey into being published xx

    Reply

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