Writers live inside their heads most of the time. They spend lifetimes in the stories of others and resent the time they have to spend focused on the basic tasks of being a human. That’s why learning how to believe in your writing can be so hard–your human experience comes from others and not necessarily your own life.

A book sits open on the table, the pages fanning out. The background is blurred. The text on the image reads "How to Believe in Your Writing When You've Lived Your Life in Books" with a cursive watermark for marisamohi.com on the bottom.

I have a theory that writers understand the world around them better than they understand themselves. The emotional pain of big, hairy scary concepts is something they’ve been dealing with since they first escaped reality in a book so far outside their reading level when they were still a kid. By the time a writer is doing their high school senior summer reading, they’ve probably read so many books they can write their thesis with little to no research needed.

(I’m writing from experience here. I wrote my high school senior thesis in a day, bashing through the draft in one go. Then, I went back and added the quotes I needed from sources in about half an hour. I made over 100% on that paper.)

But when it comes to life? Well. Shit.

I’ve lived lifetimes between the pages of books, often at the expense of my own experience. I’m getting better about it as I age, but it’s still hard remember that I don’t have all the life experience in the world when I’ve spent so much time reading about it.

And that’s the thing: You don’t know how to believe in your writing unless you have the experience to believe in it.

How to Believe in Your Writing

Before you can be the super confident writer who stands behind every word you’ve ever written, you have to write a fuckton and share it with the world. That’s all there is to it.

(Also, I don’t know a single writer who hasn’t screamed “my writing sucks!” at the top of their lungs at least once.)

I can see why that doesn’t sound very helpful, so let me break it down into steps. Here’s exactly how you’re going to learn how to believe in your writing:

001: Write like you did before you cared about what people thought.

When you first started writing, you were probably pretty young. I was about six when I wrote my first “novel.” At that time, I didn’t care what others thought of it. I didn’t care if people didn’t like the subject matter. I just picked up a pencil and wrote.

You have to get back to that headspace you had before you cared about what people thought of your writing. You can’t focus on what other people think because opinions don’t always matter. (More on that in a second.)

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For now, you’re just writing because you have to do that A WHOLE FUCKING LOT to get to a place where you believe in yourself. How many words per day should you be writing?

I don’t know. You tell me.

Knowing how to portray thoughts in writing takes a lot of time. With every sentence you write, you become better.

I mean, you may also lean into bad habits too, so keep that in mind as you work.

Write a lot. Read it. Fix it. Find your crutches and mistakes. Determine what you like. Develop your style.

All of that happens as you write.

Then, when you have a body of work, you need others to read what you wrote.

002: Share with people who have worthwhile opinions.

Yes, everyone can formulate an opinion. That doesn’t mean the opinion matters.

(Though, I suspect that most of social media would shrivel up and die if people stopped sharing irrelevant opinions about shit they weren’t qualified to talk about.)

When you’re deep in the work of writing, there are opinions you should seek out and opinions you should avoid.

Just because someone reads doesn’t mean they have the ability to give you a valid opinion. Just because someone writes doesn’t mean they can help you with their writing.

I’ve written about my experience with bad critiques, so I won’t rehash it all again. But I will say that you need a soft place to land while you’re stumbling through the beginning stages of your writing.

Don’t seek out people who will hype you up just for the sake of hyping you up. But don’t seek out people who are unnecessarily harsh.

Learning how to believe in your writing takes good, thoughtful critiques from people who understand what you’re trying to do without trying to turn your work into their own.

Find the firm and true opinions that make you better and guide you in a nurturing way.

003: Repeat until your skin stops crawling and that’s.

Sharing your writing is always stressful. For me, I’m happy to share stuff on this blog. For whatever reason, this space feels like screaming into the void. It has brought some really great people into my orbit, and I’m so glad for that. But there’s still something very impersonal about sharing the writing and letting people leave comments if they choose.

When I send fiction to beta readers, I lose sleep. That’s weird, isn’t it? Like, I know some people who are very thoughtful readers and I chose them to read my work to help me make it better, and it still stresses me out.

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But my skin doesn’t crawl so much anymore. I don’t immediately assume that these people will think I’m a paint huffing weirdo. (They have never thought that, by the way.)

And the more I share with people, the better my writing gets. I share bigger, braver things. I feel like I’m getting to the place where I’m actually writing shit that matters.

It’s been a long journey, but it’s been good.

How to Believe in Yourself as a Writer

Now, if you’re worried about how to believe in your writing, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that you need to believe in yourself as a writer.

Easier said that done, right?

It’s one thing to write something that you can stand behind and quite another to be able to stand tall in who you are and know that your identity as a writer is unshakeable.

As someone who regularly goes through an identity crisis like every quarter, I know this. But I also have a few tips that will have your back when you feel like a fraud.

There are two things to remember as you make your way through this life as a writer:

001: Know that everyone thinks they’re a writer.

Most people think they can write because they went to school for some period of time. Anyone who has ever received an email from a so-called professional knows this isn’t true.

If you buy a guitar, you can’t automatically play it. Buying paint and a canvas doesn’t make you van Gogh. If you take one beginning ballet class, you aren’t going to be cast in your local ballet company’s production of The Nutcracker.

But if someone has access to a computer or notebook, suddenly they’re a writer.

Now. I want to say that this is where everyone begins, and it’s great! Beginners should say they’re a writer and get to writing. That’s how you make shit happen.

But a writer who spends no time getting better or even writing isn’t really a writer. And someone who thinks they’re a writer just because they took a Comp I class in college is also lying to themselves.

(I took acting for non-majors as an undergrad. WHERE IS MY OSCAR?!)

Basically, the real writers worry they won’t be able to communicate their ideas to others. They worry their work will never be good enough because they’ve read the greats and they know how far from that level they are.

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Fake writers declare from the rooftops they’re a writer and don’t do much else.

There’s also this universal writer experience: You tell someone you’re a writer and then they tell you they’re going write about their life because they’ve had a weird one.

A real writer knows that most lives aren’t worth writing about. At least, not simply because they’re weird. Real writers know how much work it takes to shape a story and to cut the fat. They know how to finesse the details so they actually mean something.

They know when a story is actually worth telling because they’ve been practicing for ages and sharing with people who have good opinions.

002: Know who you are and how to believe in your writing.

This may seem to contradict the thing I just said, but if you know you’re a writer, you’re a writer.

Full stop. End of sentence. No hasta la vista, baby.

As a writer, you aren’t looking for validation. You’re looking for more time in your schedule to write. You’re looking for places to submit your work. There’s no need to tell people you’re a writer because who gives a fuck?

I do believe it’s important for people to claim their identity and embody it. So, please. Tell people you’re a writer.

But if you’re a writer, you know how fraught that interaction can be. Do you really want to spend time explaining to some Boomer what you write and why so they can ignore you and tell you they always loved writing in school?

No. No you don’t.

So, to me, part of being a writer is knowing who I am. I learned how to believe in my writing by writing a fuckton and sharing it. I learned to believe in myself as a writer because I get validation from doing the work, not telling people that I write.

Write More and You’ll Worry Less About How to Believe in Your Writing

At the end of the day, the only real reward for the work you’ve done is more work. You’ll never get to a point where you’ve done all you want to do so you can just settle in and do nothing for the rest of your days.

That’s also true of writing. The more you write, the more you will write. And luckily for you, that’s how you learn to believe in yourself as a writer.

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