Friday, September 21, 2018

Writers Need Confidence

by Gurmeet Mattu (writer), Glasgow, December 28, 2009

Novice writers are held back by a lack of confidence, and the fear that their work will attract mockery. But to gain confidence, you must face an audience.

Some years ago a friend of mine, a multi-millionaire businessman (yeah, I know lots of them!) phoned me and asked for a favour. He'd written his autobiography and he wanted me to have a look at it.

I wondered at this, and asked him exactly what he wanted me to do. Did he want me to rewrite it? Did he want me to sub-edit it? Did he want me to add a few gags?

Nope, he just wanted me to read it and tell him what I thought, and that's a process I hate, because there's nothing a writer hates to hear more but that his work isn't up to scratch. But the rules he was imposing were that I could highlight any blatant grammatical or spelling errors and make suggestions as to how the piece could be improved, but that was all. And as he was paying the piper I had to play his tune.

And found that he had written a good, interesting read. Sure, there were some minor flaws, but nothing that the editors at his publishers wouldn't have picked up, so why did he need me?

Simple, and it came to me when I recalled my own start as a writer. He had no confidence as a writer. All that money, successful businesses, fancy house, flash cars, and he was scared that someone would mock him for bad writing. Imagine how bad it is then for the newbie writer when he sets out on his career. Success breeds confidence, but the newbie has no success to rely on, he's only just written his first words. And when he submits it anywhere there's a 99.9% chance that he'll get a rejection slip. Which he needs like a hole in the head, and puts his confidence quotient into the red. How about some constructive advice, guys?

It's a catch-22 situation with publishers saying it's not their business to teach writers how to write. But neither is it their business to cut the legs away from a goose which may one day lay a golden egg for them. Sure, some publishers will at least give some encouragement and urge the newbie not to quit, but just as many will trot out a hackneyed line about their lists being full and the state of the market. Would it take too much for publishers to set up some sort of training program for writers they think have genuine talent but just don't have the writing experience that builds their confidence? Couldn't they tie them to a contract that gets first dibs on anything the writer produces if they train him?

No doubt the sums don't add up, because in the end it's always about money. But the truth is the writer is never going to perform at his best until he gets confidence in himself and his material. I wish I could put it in a box to give you.

About the Writer

Gurmeet Mattu is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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2 comments on Writers Need Confidence

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By Gurmeet Mattu on December 29, 2009 at 03:24 am

Valid comments, Julian. The collecting of rejection slips seems to be something of a rite of passage for novice writers. Has there ever been a writer so gifted, so talented, that he has never had to suffer those? Or is that part of the process of becoming a rounded writer?

I'd disagree with your statement that it's always a crap shoot. Getting to know a publication or an editor, and forming a relationship with them, means that you can have a clear road to getting your work out there.

The confidence I'm referring to doesn't come in one package but is a stepped process, whereby you first have to be confident wnough to show your writing to anybody at all, never mind putting it up for critique to professionals. Only gradually do you build up enough grit to know, deep in your soul, that anything you write is worthy of being read. Eventually, it can verge on a kind of arrogance, which isn't an attractive trait, but is, I believe, a necessary attribute for a writer.

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By Gurmeet Mattu on December 29, 2009 at 04:40 am

Ha, you want to try writing comedy. Not only do you have to produce good writing, you have to make the buggers laugh as well. If you can manage that, you deserve a little smidgen of arrogance.

To return to whether a piece is worthy. Who decides? The writer? The editor? The publisher? The reader? All have different requirements. If you're a professional writer, getting paid validates your work. For the amateur it's only the readrs's reactions. For my money the writer should decide. Nobody can delude themselves forever.

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