My utopYA Idea Exchange Talk: the Ultimate Writer Pep Talk!

Photo by Ethan Gregory.

Me giving my Idea Exchange talk on Confidence in Your Writing (UtopYA 2015). Boy, I really love pink, don’t I? Photo by Ethan Gregory.

Hey everyone! It’s been a whirlwind of a month and now that UtopYA is over, I’m full of motivation and inspiration for ALL THE THINGS! UtopYA (now Utopia) is one of the best things that ever happened to me (read last year’s love letter here) and I am grateful to have this event and the community in my life. It’s surely a life-changing experience that has already greatly impacted my career. I am so excited to see where I’ll be by next year’s con!

Anyway, this year, not only was I the event PR coordinator and an exhibitor, but I was also one of 8 Idea Exchange talks. The topics ranged far and wide, but I stuck to what I’m good at: a good old fashioned writer pep talk. For those who couldn’t make it or need their own personal pep talk today, I’m sharing the (edited) talk here so you can get pumped up! Here we go…

UTOPYA IDEA EXCHANGE: CONFIDENCE IN YOUR WRITING

My name is Liz Long. I’m the author of 5 books, a social media strategist, and the PR Coordinator for this event(!). I want to share how I’ve become more confident in my writing career and a few ideas that might help you. Thank you for joining me!! This is gonna get a little nerdy and pep talk-ish, so I hope you’re cool with that.

Today I want to talk about confidence, specifically, in terms of your writing. Now I say writing because that’s who I am, and how I think about things. But this can also apply to anyone with ambitions, really, whether it’s writing, blogging, design, photography…you get the idea. You’re here for a reason, so I’m talking directly to you!

I think confidence is something that’s often mistaken for or seen as loud. Full of actions and probably a lot of hand waving. That maybe you walk into every room going LOOK AT ME, LOOK HOW CONFIDENT I AM. Some people out there think that the more you talk about it, the more it’s true.

We know how that usually goes, right? I believe a certain Game of Thrones phrase comes to mind: “Any man who must say, ‘I am king’ is no true king.” Same rules apply!

If you ask me, confidence is actually very quiet. Mouselike, even. Why? Because it comes from within. There are many things out of your control, but YOUR confidence is not one of them! It doesn’t have to be over the top. Confidence is a quiet assurance that you are going to be okay no matter what happens.

My favorite new quote from my friend Barbara – you might know her as BJ Sheldon – is one that has stuck with me ever since she shared it:

Confidence is not “they will like me”; confidence is “I’ll be fine if they don’t.”

Don’t you love that? There is so much power behind that quote. When I tell myself that phrase from time to time, I kinda feel like Beyonce. There’s my top advice – always walk into a room like you’re Beyonce. There you go, end of talk 🙂

Confidence is important for every level of creativity, right? There’s no doubt that we all have to own our shit. We believe in what we do! And that’s the easy part right? That’s something that comes easy to us, believing in our writing. It comes and goes with the editing process, sure, but we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it. But what about when it comes to what other people think about our work?

I gotta tell you – I felt like a nobody up until about a year ago. And while that didn’t necessarily bother me, I knew it wasn’t enough in the long run. I’ve always wanted more for myself and writing books was no different. So I thought about what’s changed in my life – and only one thing came to mind. UtopYA.

And yes if you’re wondering this will be a giant love fest for Utopya! I’m not saying it’ll change your life, but it did for me. By taking the steps towards my dreams – you know, the thing you’re doing THIS VERY SECOND – I changed my life. Why? Because it changed my mindset. It made me more confident.

It made me believe in myself.

I was thinking about this talk for months now…and realized that we all have one immediate, major thing in common.

We are here. At Utopya, together. This is your tribe, people!!

We are in this together. It’s not just because we automatically have a conversation at hand – for example, HAVE YOU READ keynote speaker Lauren Miller’s FREE TO FALL? Are you kidding me? Read that now so we can talk about it later! – but we all have a hand in the book community in some way – authors, bloggers, designers, fans! We are here to connect over our love of books and that’s like the best icebreaker ever!!

It’s also because when you have a tribe, you have support. And what does support do? Builds confidence! Yeah, you see where I’m going with this?

I remember this time, right when I was about to publish GIFTED, friends and I sat outside hanging out. Our conversations went on for probably an hour before I finally managed to admit that I’d been writing a book and was about to publish it.

I did this thing when anyone asked about my author status – *imagine super shy author reaction here complete with stuttering and hand waving and hiding behind your hair* – like I was worried they’d find it strange or WORSE, think I’m fraud. That’s it  – a total fraud with no real agent with publishing deal to stand on. It didn’t matter that I was proud of the book or I spent every waking hour in my fictional world. All I could think about was worrying about what other people thought.

And you know what happened? “That’s so awesome.” “I wish I could do that.” “What a cool imagination.”

I told them, “Well, I’m just self-published” and “It’s some silly fantasy story.” (Now I want to kick past me for saying those things, for the record.)

I got eye rolls and scoffs. One person pointed out the obvious – and feel free to write this down – “How many people do you know who’ve written and published a full length novel?”

I get that when you and I see our newsfeeds and community boards, we see HUNDREDS of people who’ve written their novel(s). But really, we’re a small dent in the world. There are so many passions that while ours is definitely one of them, that PLENTY of people DON’T write their novels, right? So my friends – just like all of your friends – think that being an author is effin’ COOL!! They are my biggest supporters because they believe in me.

Much like the Grinch’s heart, my confidence grew three sizes that day. It made me realize something: to be a writer, to put myself and my dreams out there in the world for everyone to read, I had to have courage. I had to have confidence. I had to get rid of the tiny voice in the back of my head – no, not your character’s voices! – the one that told me I couldn’t. The one that said it was a stupid dream. That writing would never amount to anything and I’d only embarrass myself.

We all know what that voice is – FEAR. That is fear gripping us by the ladyballs and holding us back from our dreams.

I had to let it go. YOU have to let it go. Right? Right…so….How the hell do you kick that annoying little voice to the curb and own your confidence?

My friend Sarah Beth is a life coach, and she has this great advice about confidence.

You know the fear? That tiny little voice that sometimes has that paralyzing fear over you? Imagine it. Like a little gremlin feeding off your doubts. Tiny rat bastard.

Give it a name.

But not like, Loki or Rumplestiltskin or some cool scary villain name.

Name him Fred. Sunshine Sparkles. Lady crankypants. Or Dick. Yeah name him Dick. 🙂 just kidding – but you get it. Give the gremlin a silly little name. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you understand that you’re about to tell it off.

When Lady Crankypants whispers that we should quit, or sales are slow because your books aren’t good, or whatever – this is where you tell it to eff off. “I don’t have time for you today, Lady Crankypants. I have too much awesome to do!”

By giving the fear a name, you’re taking control. By telling it off? Well, that’s you just kicking some ass and getting to business.

You can’t please everyone, no matter how well you write, but I still say that we need to conquer the fear. Because you know what? If you give up for a day or a month, what’s to stop that from turning into a year or forever? I’ve read several quotes lately about how it’s better to try and fail than it is to never try at all. And I have to say, that resonates.

You’re writing and releasing books because you believe it. You know that it’s a great story with well-developed characters and a plot that will keep you reader going to the next page. And despite whatever reviewers or anyone else might say, you’re doing this because you love it, not because you expect a large paycheck (at least, I hope that’s why you’re doing it).

I have a few more tips for telling Lady Crankypants off and Helping Confidence.

Number one and probably the most important thing for any writer to do if they want to keep being a writer: Put out another book. And then another. And another. Five books. Make plenty of future plans with deadlines and goals. If you ignore the fear, confidence grows.

It seems to me, my friends, that we as writers will grow more each time we write down new words. The upside to your writer’s growth, especially in a series (at least I hope), is that the books – with sharp writing and well-developed characters – will only get better. When you become more comfortable thanks to experience, support, and Scrivener, you will grow, which in turn will make your writing better and confidence skyrocket.

Find a mentor. Ask questions. Lots of them. Relying on someone who’s been there before is a huge factor that will help you on your journey. When I published my first book, I learned so much from bestselling author Courtney Cole. She answered my panicked midnight emails (because she was also up writing), offered advice when I felt totally lost, and even read the book which in turn gave me extraordinary confidence when it turned out she loved it. Knowing someone has your back – much like your tribe – will strengthen confidence in yourself. Not just because you have someone else you admire who believes in you, but because learning from someone who is full of wisdom and experience will only make you that much better. Then when someone comes to YOU for help, you can pass on your knowledge and help someone become more confident in themselves. Full circle, people!

Take chances. Challenge yourself to reach new goals and don’t be afraid to try new things whether it’s a marketing technique, a different POV or genre, whatever. You will learn and grow from all of it and that is how confidence takes over.

To that regard – Make mistakes. It’s ok to make mistakes. Even the best are still making them. Usually, plenty of things can be learned from mistakes, which will only make you better at what you do.

The worst they can do is tell you no. Seriously. Agent, book blogger review request, whatever it is – this will not kill you. It isn’t personal. Put your big girl panties on and email the next person.

Don’t compare yourself to others. I feel like all of these should be number one on the list, but comparison really isn’t what we should do. Not only does it create competition between us (and we all know there’s plenty of room on this boat), but it will only cause you to stand in your own way.

Trust your readers. When they say it’s an awesome book, that’s because it is! You and I didn’t bribe them to read and review the books! They did that because they wanted to, because they love spending time in your worlds.

Don’t read reviews. Not only do you want YOUR work to stay on course – as in, you don’t want reader opinions’ to affect the story – but why would you want to subject yourself to a poor review when there’s nothing you can do about it? Besides, to each his own right? Not everyone will like everything – and that’s okay. Even the best books have only one star from readers!

I want to finish out my pep talk with one of the best quotes I know – naturally, it’s a Harry Potter quote from Order of the Phoenix: “Working hard is important. But there is something that matters even more: believing in yourself. Think of it this way; every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than what we are now, students. If they can do it, why not us?”

Seriously – why NOT us? So many authors today – successful bestsellers, too – started somewhere. They got to where they are today with hard work. If we put in the effort and have an incredible tribe to support us, why can’t that be us, too?

Thanks to UtopYA, to conferences like it, we have connection. We have motivation. And by God, it gives us confidence because people grow to know us. And like us and want to support us! Lift as we climb, right?

The other day I went to happy hour. A friend introduced me to someone as “an author.”

And I smiled, stuck my hand out, and said, “Yes, I am.”

Thank you for reading my pep talk – now go get to writing!

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