Chutzpah, pluck, or just blind faith in your creative idea – whatever you call it, self-confidence is essential if you’re going to put your writing out there. But confidence alone won’t mean your idea will see the light of day – you need it in just the right amounts.
In the early 1900s the industrialist Sakichi Toyoda developed the concept of the 5 Whys – an iterative process of asking a series of ‘why’ questions with the objective of finding the root cause of a problem.
It was a process car giant Toyota successfully used to weed out faults and problems in its manufacturing processes and it’s a process creative companies like Pixar use today.
Succeeding and stumbling
Our startup – called Write Track – uses persuasive technology to help people become more persistent writers – because developing a writing practice is essential to becoming a better writer.
As part of our user research we used a simplified version of Toyoda’s 5 Whys to help us understand why writers succeed or stumble in their creative endeavors.
We developed 10 different writer personality types based on around 500 writer surveys and interviews.
These ‘archetypes’ set out some of the typical reasons why people write, why they don’t – and what excuses they make. We’ve come to think of them as friends!
The lessons learned from analyzing the personalities of writers don’t just apply to writers – they apply to anyone who wants to get their side project off the ground but who struggles to stick with it.
Jess the super achiever
For example, I’d like to introduce you to Jess. She’s 34 and a talented businesswoman who’s sailed through her career so far but now has hit a ceiling. She needs to up her professional profile if she’s going to move to the next level. So, she decides to write a guru book that will showcase her experience. She’s already got a file full of ideas and a structure in her head. No problem – at least in theory.
But Jess finds it unexpectedly hard. Writing doesn’t come naturally to her and she finds it tough. She’s a high achiever – not used to struggling or asking for help. She buys countless gadgets to help her write. She reads blogs on writing rather than doing any herself. Frustration kicks in and over time, her dreams of writing a book are put on the backburner. Why?
Jess would probably admit that she finds writing difficult – but she might blame herself for not working hard enough. But digging a little deeper we might ask why she thinks that writing should be so easy?
Perhaps Jess finds writing tough because she’s used to things going her way. Her confidence is sky high and that’s great but this means she’s underestimated how hard the writing process can be. Her overconfidence is now getting in the way of her creative progress. Jess doesn’t need to put in more hours, she needs mentoring and feedback to help her improve.
Harvey the grasshopper
Now, let’s meet Harvey. He’s a 21 year-old digital native works a busy publishing job. He’s Neil Gaiman’s number one fan, loves reading and always has a head buzzing with story ideas. He’d love to get some of these ideas down but he gets distracted so easily. Harvey has a grasshopper mind, he just never finishes anything and this gets him down. With every story he abandons he doubts his own abilities further. He loves writing but his writing habit slowly grinds to a halt. Why?
If asked, Harvey might say his hectic job or social life gets in the way of his writing – that’s why he never finishes anything. But is that really the reason? Harvey might abandon his stories, but that’s because he judges their quality too soon.
Harvey reads other stories and becomes demoralised at his own work. Never seeing a project through means his writing doesn’t improve and his writing falters as a result. Harvey’s stuck in a negative spiral with lack of confidence at the centre. Harvey shouldn’t blame his job or his Facebook friends, he needs a confidence boost and to fall in love with writing again.
Just the right amount
So, two writers, being held back from writing by the same thing – confidence – but for entirely different reasons. Harvey because he lacks it, Jess because she has too much. It certainly doesn’t stop with our writing duo.
When we applied a similar questioning process to every writing personality in our list – each one struggled to write because they either had too little self-confidence – or they had it in spades.
So, if you’re like Harvey or Jess and you’re on the verge of quitting your writing – stop. You first need to find out where on the creative confidence scale you fall – then you can take action.
If you’re prone to over-confidence be kind to yourself! Give yourself more time and don’t set your sights too high.
If under confidence is your challenge think of ways you can reward yourself for you’re creative achievements – give yourself a small boost every time you achieve a goal.
Don’t throw in the towel, first ask yourself five whys:
1. Why can’t you stick with your creative pursuit?
What reasons do you typically give – both to yourself and to others – to explain why you’re not progressing with your project?
2. But is that really true?
Now dig a little deeper. For example, let’s say you blame a lack of time. Now is that really true? It might be that you’re just not prioritizing.
3. So why aren’t you prioritizing?
Creative people often put off the thing they love doing because they fear it. Writers often procrastinate because they find it difficult to sit down and write.
4. Why do you find it so hard?
Many people become demotivated when they think they should be further on than they are or when they believe others are better.
5. And what’s behind all that?
Confidence! Too little and you’re held back by self-doubt, too much and you overestimate your abilities and become de-motivated when your goals aren’t quickly achieved.