Q. If you look at work you did much earlier in your career, what are some of the ways that lack of confidence would show itself?
A. The real evidence of confidence is writing more simply and in a plainer way. It’s when, as a writer, I’m not defending my choice of subject. I’m not constantly doubling down on why you should read my story.
I’m not sure that I could point to word choice or something so specific as that. But I now believe that I can state my case without providing all sorts of defense for it, and that the reader will follow me.
From a fabulous interview with New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean on the magic and mystery of writing. That line is so true and great, it bears repeating: “The real evidence of confidence is writing more simply and in a plainer way.”
My first drafts of posts here are often longer than the final product, and no one ever accused me of brevity. Also, the more confident I am in a post, the less I use the first person subject, the fewer times I use the word “I” as in “I think” or “I believe.” This is my blog, of course these are my ideas, yet when my confidence isn't to the brim, my voice hedges by dipping into the explicitly subjective tone. If the goal is strong ideas, weakly held, it's still best to express them as if they're strongly held.
Also from the interview, also great:
Q. Did you come up with other techniques as well to discipline your writing?
A. I absolutely treat myself like a factory. A word factory. That’s been really helpful for me because writing is very mysterious, and the creative process is very mysterious. It’s comforting to have a few mechanical tools at hand to help balance that sense of mystery.
First of all, if you don’t have a deadline, give yourself one and take it seriously. Secondly, I am thoroughly dependent on having a daily word count as a goal that I have to hit. If I get it done in an hour, I have the afternoon off. If it takes me until midnight, it takes me until midnight. The value of that is it makes concrete a process that otherwise seems ephemeral.
It also means you can look at a calendar and say, “If I’m writing a 100,000-word book, I will be done on this day if I keep my schedule going.” You’re no longer looking into the void and thinking, “Oh God, it’s me and this blank screen.”
I also think if you’ve got writer’s block, you don’t have writer’s block. You have reporter’s block. You only are having trouble writing because you don’t actually yet know what you’re trying to say, and that usually means you don’t have enough information. That’s the signal to walk away from the keyboard, think about what it is that you don’t really know yet, and go do that reporting.