When I started my PhD programme, I felt scared and insecure. Not only was I writing an 80,000-word thesis in English, which is my third language, but also I had to grapple with a different education system and standards. My supervisor, bless him, wasn’t especially supportive and for most of my programme I had to get creative to find ways of receiving feedback from other people. He did one good thing for me though. On our first day, he asked me to start writing and turn in my first chapter within three weeks. With hindsight, it was an insane task. I was moving from one accommodation to another, getting my head around the topic of my PhD and, well … writing to my best ability. Three weeks later, I had 10,000 words, which were, in all honesty, rubbish. He gave me some feedback, and off I went to write more. Within a few months, I was attending conferences and giving papers. Two years later, I published that same paper in a prestigious journal in my area of expertise. It just grew from there, along with my confidence. And the key lesson I learnt was that our confidence cannot grow without us actually doing what we need to do.
For me, confidence is not necessarily knowing how to do things, but having the courage to give it a go.
When we do it again and again, our skill evolves and our confidence grows. Personally I haven’t found a way around it. To walk this path, we need to be willing to fall down sometimes, and have the wisdom to get up and get going again.
It’s interesting that when I started writing creatively, I had to go through the same process. I was working with Dr Barbara Turner-Vesselago, my writing mentor, and she was my main source of validation and support. Nothing made me happier in those days than her e-mails with feedback popping into my inbox. Breathless and nervous, I used to drink in her kind words of encouragement. She always found something positive to say, and for a brief moment there was relief: if she says I can write, then surely I can, I used to say to myself, before diving into my next writing submission. As my confidence grew, my dependence on her validation lessened. Does it mean that I consider myself a great writer? No, I simply know that I’ll give whatever I write my best shot. It’ll probably need some editing, tweaking, and possibly re-writing, but that’s OK. It’s the nature of this craft, and the more I do it, the easier and better it gets.
How do you grow your confidence as a writer? Where do you find motivation and inspiration to keep going? Please share with me.