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Writing with Confidence

When I talk to my writer friends, we discuss popular books and movies, nerd culture, and a variety of things related to the elements that make up a good story. Inevitably though, the topic of confidence comes up in one way or another down the line. Today I talked with a screenwriter friend of mine who's just finished the third draft of a pilot he's been working on. I read over it recently, and despite my initial doubts about the setting, I have to say that I was pretty impressed. And I'm a harsh critic. Ask anyone I've edited for -- they'll say, "harsh but fair" (because I made them say it). There were a few scenes where the dialogue could use a rewrite, but the plot points were fairly tight and the characters were likeable.

My friend didn't take my optimism well. "If this wasn't the third draft," he said, "I could be as confident as you about it." I immediately launched into a diatribe about how writing is a craft, and how it's practically impossible to get something right on the first try. Sure, maybe it happens from time to time -- I personally get non-fiction right more often than not on the first shot -- but this excludes the glaring fact that everything ever written could benefit from a solid edit.

I think writers could take a lesson from this. I've said some of the same things my friend has, and felt just as down after failing to ace a manuscript or story in one go. So let's alter the perspective a little bit, in order to get at the heart of the issue. Because the truth is, writing is a job. It's work. For that reason alone, you shouldn't expect to avoid putting in a lot of effort to get something right. Penning a script or novel in itself is a great accomplishment, sure. But if you've chosen to write for a living, then you should know that it isn't enough to just get through a draft of something. I'm currently on the fourth draft of a novel I wrote entirely in text messages, and I'm still changing fundamental dynamics and the underlying structure of the story. It never translates from your imagination onto paper perfectly. You have to pick at it until it does, or until you've stumbled on something that you like even better.

Finishing a major project is a proud moment in a writer's life. It offers the kind of high for some people that's only equaled by munching on a warehouse full of heroin bricks (wait, is heroin munchable?). And it's a great feeling to put your work in front of readers and find out that they like it. Wanting to be liked is a character flaw a lot of writers share -- it isn't just about telling stories. Everyone wants to be known for doing the thing they enjoy. But you shouldn't have an existential crisis every time something isn't perfect right away. You know why? Because you can work at it until it is, typing, scribbling, or clawing away at a manuscript until it arrives safely and securely in perfect land.

And even then, a lot of people aren't going to like it. In evidence of this premise, I give you everything that George Lucas has ever done that wasn't the original Star Wars trilogy or Indiana Jones. Not to mention, some people won't even like the genre you're writing in, and will be out as potential readers by default. So write for you, and for those who will appreciate your work. Don't write for perfection, because it doesn't exist. It's a lofty and unapproachable ideal manufactured by poets, and by the most pretentious among us who want to make you think your talent could never come close to approaching their own. Don't believe it. Put in the work and see the results for yourself.

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To read more about writing and best practices, check out my latest book, How to Write Like a Badass: A Guidebook for Professional Writing

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