How to Build Your Confidence in Writing (Even If You Feel Like a Fraud)

You stare at the screen but can’t bring yourself to bring your fingers to the keyboard.

You’ve got great ideas coursing through your veins, but you feel like a fraud when you try to write them out.

You’re filled with self-doubt.

Your favorite writers always seem to speak with a kind of self-assured confidence that you aren’t sure you can mimic.

After all, you’re not as accomplished as they are. You’re not as experienced, you don’t have as large a fan base, and you haven’t been doing this as long as they have.

What right do you have to tell people what to do with their lives, to give them advice, to teach them?

Won’t they see right through you?

You’re Not Imagining This

If you’ve ever felt self-doubt and lack of confidence regarding your writing credibility, you’re right to feel that way.

It’s not always just a matter of low self esteem or Imposter Syndrome — Readers really WILL not listen to you if you don’t have a certain amount of credibility in your topic.

And why should they?

Readers are busy. They need real solutions from actual experts. And if you’re not proficient in the topic that you’re writing about, you have no right to teach things that don’t actually help them.

You wouldn’t want someone else wasting your time, after all, so why should you have the right to waste someone else’s time with your ignorance?

It sounds harsh, but it’s true. If you want to be a writer, you need to be an expert at your topic.

But here’s the key to remember:

Experts may not be not what you think they are.

The True Meaning of “Expert” — Everyone Has Some Expertise…What’s Yours?

Everyone is located on multiple continuums of knowledge and experience in every field under the sun.

For instance: You may be an amazing flautist with a gift for languages and computer science, but you have no idea what to do when it comes to finances and raising gerbils.

Or perhaps you know nearly everything there is to know about Confederate History, you’re pretty good at making desserts, and you’ve been raising children for 20 years.

Perhaps you also love painting, but you’re not that great at it, and you’ve only just gotten a puppy and have no idea how to train him.

The point is, you are VERY good at and experienced at a few things, and average or completely uneducated at everything else.

And the greatest experts in every field are the same way.

Einstein was a genius, but perhaps you could have taught him a thing or two about mountain biking (that is, if he wanted to learn).

Warren Buffet might know almost everything a person can know about investment, but he’s never learned to knit.

You see, no matter how “expert” an expert in your niche may seem, there is ALWAYS something you know that they don’t.

Granted, the thing you know that they don’t know may not actually be relevant to the kind of blog and business and writing career you are trying to create.

But think of it another way:

If you know less than the top experts in your field, plenty of people out there know less than YOU.

Which means you can ALWAYS find someone to teach, someone who looks up to you as an expert. Always.

The real challenge is: How do you find these beginners, and how do you convince them that you are a worthy writer to follow, a worthy teacher to learn from?

'No matter how “expert” an expert in your niche may seem, there is ALWAYS something you know that they don’t.'Click To Tweet

Creating Credibility

Both credibility and confidence come with hard work over time.

As a beginner, you haven’t got much credibility or confidence yet, and that’s normal. You haven’t earned it yet.

But you don’t have to wait for a decade before people start caring what you say, because you’ve got some powerful things going for you:

For one, you weren’t born yesterday. For another, your interest in the topic you chose to write about didn’t sprout overnight.

The reason WHY you chose to be a writer, especially writing about your particular topic, is because you already have some history with it, an interest that’s been going on for more than a day, or a year.

You know more than an absolute beginner, and that’s a good place to start. But don’t stop there.

The Biggest Misconception About Credibility

Most people assume that the person with the most credentials is the person with the most credibility.

Most people think that a certification, degree, license, or Ivy league education automatically makes someone a credible expert.

And while there is a little truth to that, the truth is, credibility doesn’t actually have that much to do with credentials.

One synonym for credibility is “trustworthiness.” And often, trustworthiness has nothing to do with credentials.

Just look at yourself and the people around you:

When people need to make choices about parenting, say, or career choices or other important life decisions, do they look for the most highly qualified expert in the relevant topic to research what they have to say?

Some do, yes. But the majority of people look to their family, friends, and culture for advice and recommendations.

In other words, people regularly ignore the “experts” in favor of people they trust.

The truth is, credibility is not so much about credentials as it is about INFLUENCE.

Look at Oprah, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg. All of them are college dropouts (Granted, Oprah did complete her degree much later, after she became successful). None of them have fancy (non-honorary) degrees or licenses from Ivy League schools.

Yet they have been able to reach across the world and impact billions of lives.

Yes, NOW these leaders have lots of money and tons of people following them, but they didn’t start that way.

The thing to remember is: for MOST subjects (pretty much everything besides law and medicine), it really doesn’t matter if you have credentials. Yes, it’s helpful, but it’s not necessary.

So what DOES give you influence in the eyes of your audience?

The Top 5 Characteristics of Influential Writers

If you want influence and credibility, you must cultivate the following five characteristics:

1. Proof

People don’t care what you know so much as what you can DO with what you know.

They want to know what RESULTS you can get with your knowledge, your product, your skills.

Think about it:

The most powerful commercials are the ones with powerful demonstrations of proof, like the Blendtec “Will It Blend” series of ads, where a man in a lab coat and goggles puts all kind of crazy things inside a Blendtec blender to prove that the machine has the power to crush everything from tiki torches to iPads.

It’s all about proving that what you’re teaching and writing about actually works, so people don’t think you’re a scam artist.

The best way to demonstrate this is by doing it yourself. An even stronger kind of proof is helping someone to get the same results that you’ve gotten.

So as you work on your writing, think about how you can find a way to track your results and prove to your audience that what you say really works.

Learn to incorporate proof in everything you do and you will automatically increase your credibility, trustworthiness, and influence in your readers’ eyes.

After all, actions speak louder than words.

2. Vulnerability

Never appear too perfect. People don’t like learning from folks who seem to always have it together and don’t know the pain of struggle.

In fiction, for instance, there’s even a term for this: “Mary Sues” are characters who are so blasted nice and cheerful and good-hearted and perfect that they come off as annoyingly fake and unlikable.

And in the DC Comics universe, Superman became so powerful and invulnerable — x-ray vision, super-speed, enhanced strength, etc — that readers grew bored and the creators had to introduce kryptonite to weaken him and make him vulnerable and interesting again.

You, of course, are no Superman, and you have plenty of weaknesses and failures in your past.

Sometimes, these failures and weaknesses may make you feel a bit ashamed.

Don’t be. Taken in the right light, those very weaknesses are the elements of your person and your story that will attract readers and convince them that you are a relatable person to get close to and take advice from.

That’s the funny thing about strengths and weaknesses. Too much strength can be a weakness. And many of your weaknesses can actually be a strength.

So don’t hide the imperfect parts of your life or yourself. You don’t have to tell everyone everything, of course, but take a risk and be at least a little bit vulnerable in your writing.

Talk about a time you were sad, or a time you made a horrible mistake, and what you learned from it.

Write about some of your regrets or odd quirks.

Show people that you are no better than them, and they will love you for it.

3. Emotion

As mentioned in some of the other mini-courses in this and other tracks, EMOTION is the writer’s most important tool.

Not every piece of writing requires emotion, of course.

Instruction manuals and scientific studies are generally technical, dry, and boring, because the point is to get information across as directly and quickly as possible.

But when you are writing stories and articles — even nonfiction articles — for readers, you need to touch them, emotionally.

Writers who really move people do it by lighting them on fire with emotion. And they do it by first feeling the emotion themselves.

So when you sit down to write, choose a topic you really care about. Something that makes YOU feel inspired, in awe, angry, curious, etc., and let loose.

Don’t be afraid to offend some people. Don’t do it intentionally with bad intentions, but know that talking about topics that really matter always involves some element of risk.

4. Empathy

It’s been said:

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care

Like most popular pithy sayings, this statement isn’t 100% true in all cases, but it is extremely relevant to your job as a writer.

The better you understand your readers— their fears and challenges, desires and goals, quirks and personalities — the better you can communicate with them.

But understanding also includes genuine care. When readers feel that you have their best interests at heart, they WILL care about what you have to say. And share your work with their friends.

Empathy, in some ways, is something that can’t be taught. You either care about your readers, or you don’t. If the former, you win. If the latter, it doesn’t matter how neat your ideas are, no one will hear them.

But here’s a tip: try to get to know your readers as much as possible. Understand them and don’t just project your ideas onto them. Talk to them in person, hear what they have to say in the comments, etc.

When you get to know people, to hear their stories, you will have more reason to love them. People do have their bad sides, but if you take the time to really understand, without condemnation, they will show you their lovable sides, too.

5. Similarity

Like empathy, another powerful quality that can help readers trust you more is similarity.

The more you are like your audience, the more you will bond with them, naturally. There’s a reason why “birds of a feather flock together.”

We are naturally more likely to trust the people we think we are similar to. They are predictable, and comfortable.

You’ll never be 100% like anybody in your audience, because no human being is ever 100% the same as another — not even identical twins.

But the good thing is, you don’t need 100% similarity. Sometimes even 10% is enough, if you focus on it.

And you can find similarities by exploring multiple qualities. You can find similarities in occupations, personality, worldviews, hobbies, entertainment preferences, cultural background, and much, much more.

The more similarities you can identify and use in your writing, the better.

Sometimes there are things you can do to increase similarity, by reading the things your target audience reads, watching the things they watch, adopting their slang, etc.

But in general, similarities are already there, or they aren’t.

As a writer, look for the tribes and audiences that you already resonate with, and emphasize those similarities in your writing, and you will make yourself more trustworthy in your readers’ eyes.

How to Cultivate Credibility

You don’t need to have all 5 of the elements above to be credible and trustworthy. But the more you have, the better.

And how do you cultivate these elements?

An Experiment of One

One of the best ways is to conduct idea experiments, because ideas are nearly useless until they are tested and put into action.

If you your writing feels weak, then do a one-person experiment. Try out that diet or those craft instructions. Practice taking the advice you plan to dole out.

If you have an idea about something that you want to write about, find a way to test it on yourself and then you’ll have proof, hard evidence that the idea works…or doesn’t work, but either way, the experiment will show you the next steps you need to take.

Talk is cheap. Start doing something, and then report the results. Succeed or fail, it’s bound to be interesting!

Empathy Immersion

Another helpful practice is to soak yourself in your readers’ thoughts.

Find 5–10 of the top blogs where your target audience hangs out and read their best posts.

Read the comments on their best posts. Follow those influencers on social media and see what their most-shared posts are.

Also take a look at the least popular and least shared posts, using online tools like Buzzsumo or ahrefs.

Study these posts and comments and look for patterns and interesting questions that you might like to answer.

Also, attend webinars if your influencers host them, and pay attention to the kinds of questions and comments people ask.

Read reviews of books and products in your space on Amazon. Look at relevant questions on Quora. If there is a popular forum in your space, spend some time reading through the threads.

This is a lot of work, of course, but it is worth it. Don’t try to do it all at once, but space it out over time, and over time you will get to know your audience so well that you’ll instinctively know what they want and need.

More importantly, you’ll know how to give them what they want to read, and that will result in more and more readers being drawn to you.

There are no shortcuts. You must learn what your readers think, personally…so get to work!

Write and Publish Bonding Posts

In content strategy, there are basically two broad categories of articles/posts:

  1. Posts written to get traffic, and
  2. Bonding posts

Bonding posts are articles written to connect with the audience. These articles are more personal in nature, often involving personal stories, manifestos, us vs them angles, and the like.

Types of bonding posts you can write include:

  1. Superhero Stories: If you or someone you helped used your ideas to obtain an amazing result, write a case study about it! This is one of the best ways to convince readers that your ideas work.
  2. Confessionals: This is, in some sense, the opposite of a superhero story. If you or someone you know did something wrong that led to terrible results, tell people about it so they can avoid your mistakes. If you do this right, they will thank you for it.
  3. Declare war: Find a common enemy and attack it. Make readers feel like you are on their side in the war of ideas.
  4. A Truthful Kick in the Behind: Be the no-nonsense guide who tells people the truth they may not want to hear, but also fires them up to get things DONE.
  5. Join the Mission: Readers are drawn to writers and thought leaders who are serving a purpose higher than themselves. Declare your mission, invite people to join, and many actually will.

A Few Other Methods for Driving Up Your Credibility

The following supplementary credibility tactics are ones you can try when you get the chance, after you’ve honed your skills in the previous strategies:

  • Write a journal cathartically: You can’t evoke emotions in readers if you yourself are emotionally blocked. So deal with your emotional crap (and we all have some of that) by writing things down and burning them up, or confronting the people and ideas you need to confront.
  • Interview leaders: It’s true. Influence is something that can rub off on you. If you can interview thought leaders and celebrities within your niche, your readers will see you as that much more credible, yourself.
  • Use professional images: Sloppy, amateurish pictures in blog posts and on web pages really does hurt. So if you’re not a great photographer or artist, find high quality free images on sites like pexels or unsplash, pay for the rights to use great images, or hire a photographer/artist yourself.
  • Serve a celebrity: If you can help an influencer do something, ask for a tesetimionial. For example, CPA on Fire Josh Bauerle offered his accounting services for free to John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur on Fire, which revolutionized his own blog and business, because people now associated him with Dumas. Baurle even rebranded his own site to reflect his relationship with the popular podcast.
  • Work with clients to create case studies: If your students, clients, customers used your ideas to achieve incredible results in their lives, work with them to write a step-by-step case study about it.
  • Write guest posts: Pitch, write, and publish an amazing post on a leading website, and then include their logo on your own site in an “as seen on” section.
  • Do public speaking and/or write a traditionally published book: These traditional platforms will give you a massive amount of credibility in the eyes of your audience — not everyone can get past the gatekeepers to speak on stage or write in traditional media.

Many of these extra techniques are rather difficult, especially for beginners, so don’t worry about doing them just yet.

Focus on the Top Five Characteristics of Influential Writers first. Then, you can think about adding on some supplemental strategies.

Incredible, Credible You

Most people don’t take the concept of credibility seriously.

They’re still operating from their own perspective, thinking that whatever they care about and write will naturally attract the readers they want.

But real life doesn’t work that way.

Readers are human, and humans only want to learn from people they trust, like, and admire. People who have credibility with them.

So if you work on boosting your credibility, you’ll skyrocket past the other writers who can’t be bothered.

Credibility is something that takes a while to acquire, but its benefits are exponential. So don’t overlook this step:

Credibility is something you must think about and plan ahead for, just like you plan ahead for your posts.

Regularly brainstorm ways you can increase your trustworthiness and reputation in your readers’ eyes. Spend time mastering your skills and knowledge in writing and in the topic you are writing about.

It will be hard work, but hard work that will pay off in spades.

Once you have credibility, it will be a thousand times easier to reach people, and sell your ideas (or even actual products/services).

In the final calculation, working on your credibility is like planting an orange tree: It takes time and work for little gain in the beginning.

But if you keep at it, you will have a never-ending supply of sweet results to enjoy for life!


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