How to Increase Your Writing Confidence When You Feel Like a Failure

You may not know this about me, but I’m both an editor and a writer.

A couple of years ago, I had a crisis of confidence.

I had a handful of short stories and poems published, an MA in creative writing, a shortlisted entry for a national writing award, an agent at an awesome agency (who I chose between the three who had been knocking at my door asking to represent me) and 30,000 words of an unfinished manuscript.

And I hadn’t written anything for a year. I felt like a complete failure.

When we don’t live up to the high expectations we set for ourselves, everything we’ve already achieved pales into the background. A sense of failure comes crushing down on us, and we feel like we’re suffocating in unreached potential.

Often, all that’s needed is a shift in perspective.

So simple, yet so hard.

Well, I don’t feel like a failed writer any more. But I didn’t just wake up one morning with a supernova of pride and accomplishment emanating from my core where my bruised little heart used to be.

It took many miserable months before the negative feelings started to subside. Gradually, very gradually, the waves started to calm, and I was left with a quiet sense of empowerment.

Sometimes, to write can feel like the easiest thing in the world. Sometimes, it feels like the hardest.

Usually, if something’s worth the effort, it’s not effortless.

It’s easy to feel confident when everything’s going well. If you’re a writer, the going can – and will – get tough. And that’s when you need to hold your ground, bolster your confidence and keep going.

Because even if you don’t feel it right now, you know in your heart of hearts that this is what you were meant to do.

So when you feel like a failure, don’t stop writing. Try this:

1. Know that you are a writer.

You are not an ‘aspiring’ writer. If you write, you are a writer. It’s as simple as that. Sure, aspire to be a better writer, or a published writer, or a best-selling writer – but know that as long as you’re putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you are a writer.

2. Stop worrying about doing it ‘wrong’.

Advice is just that: advice. What works for one person may not work for another. Creativity does not come with a set of instructions. It’s not an Ikea flat-pack. There’s no one set path to success.

3. Flip humility on its head.

Have you heard of ‘imposter syndrome’? In a nutshell, imposter syndrome is when people who are good at what they do feel like frauds and believe that any success they’ve had has been down to luck or deceit. Interestingly, if you suffer from this syndrome, it’s more likely to indicate that you are good at what you do. People who are always confident often don’t understand their field well enough to know just how bad they are.

4. Remind yourself why you write.

You know what’s worse than failure? Regret.

5. Make it a priority.

If you say to yourself that you’d be a better writer if only you had more time, more energy, more space, more money, etc. then consider this: everyone has the same amount of hours in the day. Unless you’re a robot who has absolutely no power over the life programmed into your computer chip of a brain, you do have some control over how you spend your life. How can you change your day to make writing more of a priority?

6. Make it a habit.

You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t start. And you know what’s more difficult than starting? Finishing. And to finish something, you must keep at it. If you make writing a habit, your lack of confidence won’t even come into the equation, because writing will become automatic. You’ll write more and find yourself on a steeper learning curve. And that, in turn, will increase your confidence as a writer.

7. Stop worrying about talent.

Talent is overrated. In 1926, psychologist Catherine Morris Cox published a study of three hundred recognised geniuses, from Da Vinci to Einstein to Playle (kidding – I wasn’t alive back then). Cox identified a number of qualities beyond intelligence that predicted ‘greatness’. Harvard researcher Angela Duckworth boiled these characteristics down to a quality she called ‘grit’ – ‘the perseverance and passion for a long-term goal’. So stop worrying about talent, and start building your grit.

8. Find the right support.

Writing can be a lonely activity. Sometimes, you need a little emotional support, somewhere to vent when you’ve been looking at a word so long that it’s lost all meaning. Or someone you can show you work to and ask ‘Is this as amazing/atrocious as I think it is?’ But you need to be drawing your support from the right kind of people. Being overly praised is just as damaging as being overly criticised. Being overly enthusiastic is just as damaging as being overly cynical. What’s best for you will fall somewhere between the ends of these two spectrums. Think very carefully about whether you’re getting the support you need from your network.

9. Throttle your green monster.

Your friend just got a book deal. Someone in your writing circle just won a writing award. You smile between gritted teeth. You want to feel happy for your friends’ successes, but the green monster within you is wringing out your internal organs in a frustrated rage of envy. Don’t let it. Throttle that ugly bastard. It serves absolutely no one – especially you. Bitterness is a weight that holds you back.

10. Gather your compliments.

Why is it that if nine out of ten people say something nice, we always fixate on the one person who said something mean? You can’t please everyone – and nor should you. Stuff that moves people, stuff that’s great, falls at the extreme end of the scale. In the middle of the spectrum is the stuff that no one either likes or dislikes. That’s where the writing that makes people go ‘meh’ sits. And you don’t want to be there. Instead, gather all the nice reviews from your readers and inspiring comments from your writing buddies, and when you’re feeling fragile, let those words sink in. And those people who don’t like your work? That just means you’ve moved away from vanilla prose. And that’s a good thing.

11. Separate your self from your work.

Criticism isn’t personal. And if someone does attack you personally in their criticism of your work, that’s not criticism, that’s just bullying, and you don’t have to listen to such conniving little snivel-twerps. But if you do find your ego bruised from some criticism of your work: take a deep breath, remember that criticism is firstly just an opinion, and secondly something you can potentially learn from. For a moment, put a shield between your work and your heart, consider the worth of the criticism, and act or don’t act on it accordingly. The better you get at this, the better your work will become (and the more resilient your esteem will be).

12. Stay curious and keep learning.

Confidence (or lack of it) is the result of what the voice inside your head is telling you about yourself. Sometimes instead of focussing on your internal self, it can be more useful to focus on something outside your head. There’s no better way to distract your self-conscious writer’s ego than by immersing yourself in the details of your craft. Even if you aren’t writing, reading about new techniques or studying good fiction with a critical eye can quiet the disparaging voice inside your head and make you feel like you’re becoming more knowledgeable in your craft – which in turn increases your confidence.

* * *

Do you ever suffer from crippling self-doubt as a writer? What have you found most effective for raising your confidence and getting yourself back on track? Share your stories in the comments.


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By | 2017-09-05T15:49:49+00:00 February 24th, 2015|Novel Writing|10 Comments

About the Author:

Sophie Playle of Liminal Pages is a professional fiction editor. She worked at the largest publishing company in the world before gallivanting off to do a Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway, University of London. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and she trained with The Publishing Training Centre. Every now and then, she slips her laptop into her rucksack and works from a different country for a few weeks.


  1. Emmanuel Marmol February 12, 2017 at 6:41 am - Reply

    This is was very invigorating!

    • Sophie Playle February 12, 2017 at 10:51 am - Reply

      Thanks, Emmanuel 🙂

  2. Manoj August 18, 2017 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    Nice article Sophie! I too have that feeling sometimes when I just feel that others wouldn’t like the stuff that I write and with that thought I balk. I stop writing altogether. Maybe we don’t need to judge ourselves from the lens of others and be focussed just on ourselves.

    • Sophie Playle August 18, 2017 at 3:24 pm - Reply

      Yes, totally, Manoj. I think it’s best to focus on yourself while you write, then consider the readership when you come to redraft and edit!

  3. Britney August 6, 2018 at 9:48 pm - Reply

    This was a warm, well-worded, and delightful read — one I very much needed. I wrote my first manuscript in little over a year and have been sitting on it for three due to a lack of confidence (as well as editing and other miscellaneous struggles). This article has given me the jump I need to get back to it. Thank you so much!

    • Sophie Playle August 7, 2018 at 10:36 am - Reply

      You are so welcome, Britney. Thank you for letting me know the article has helped. It’s awesome to hear you’re getting back to working on your novel. You can do it! *waves flags, releases balloons*

  4. Tinthia Clemant December 21, 2018 at 7:32 pm - Reply

    I’m sitting here and instead of finishing the final edits on my WIP I’m surfing the Web and that is how I ended up on this great site. Thank you. I was feeling like a complete failure that my book didn’t win an award it was entered to win that I figured I should just give up on this whole writing thing. Your post pulled me back from the cliff edge. Grazie. And Blessed Solstice.

    • Sophie Playle December 22, 2018 at 9:02 am - Reply

      Awards are just fancy opinions! Keep writing for yourself and your readers, Tinthia 🙂

  5. Marc May 21, 2019 at 12:19 am - Reply

    Awesome post. i have never been a serious writer but have always wanted to be. but every time i sit down i end up writing eith another persons story a little different (like a remix), or i stare at the screen/notebook until i get frustrated. all i hear in my head is “blahblahhhhhhblaaaaaaahhhh *random noises and words*”. i think part of it is my confidence in my writing, but part of it is that that creativity i had when i was younger, is just gone.

    • Sophie Playle May 22, 2019 at 12:04 pm - Reply

      I know exactly how you feel, Marc! Also, I highly recommend ‘Steal Like an Artist’ by Austin Kleon. Very short, but full of fantastic advice about creativity. Remixing is what creativity is all about 🙂

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