Writing: How We Do, Be, & Make in the World
When we are good at something, we are also confident in doing it. Sometimes it is helpful to look at examples of people who are exceptional at something and figure out why they are so confident. As you read this article, you will examine a couple of popular examples of self-confidence, understand how to develop your own, and eventually use it become a more confident writer.
One of the most confident boxers was Muhammad Ali. In this short video clip from the documentary When We Were Kings, Muhammad Ali speaks at a press conference before fighting George Foreman. Remember that everything we study has context, so here is a little bit of history to preface the clip:
- Almost everyone, from sports analysts and fans, had George Foreman picked to win this fight, called “The Rumble in the Jungle.”
- Foreman had 40 fights and almost all were knockouts.
- Foreman entered as the current champion, after defeating Joe Frazier in two rounds.
- Ali was a 4-to-1 underdog.
- Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay for religious reasons and thus refers to himself as such, in the third person, when referring to the past.
Now, with that context in mind, here’s the short video (the first 1:20):
What people typically take away from this, and what is perhaps most memorable and enjoyable, is the flowery language, funny rhymes, and playful attitude. Most of us think that is confidence. But, if we look closer and study the language, the more introspective Ali is revealed. The confidence is demonstrated when he says things like this:
- “That’s when that little Cassius Clay … came up and stopped Sonny Liston. … He was gonna kill me!”
- “I’m better now than I was when you saw that 22-year-old undeveloped kid running from Sonny Liston.”
- “I’m experienced now.”
- “[My] jaw’s been broke, … been knocked down a couple times.”
Without those lines, Ali could be characterized as arrogant, pompous, or cocky. But, as we can see through his language, he actually admits his faults and shortcomings. He reflects and makes no excuses for losing a couple of times in his past. In fact, he uses this as fuel to improve and build his confidence. He wasn’t born confident. He calls himself “undeveloped” at one point. As we know, he becomes quite developed in a specific skill: boxing. And he won the fight against Foreman in spectacular fashion.
But what does this have to do with writing? Muhammad Ali was a boxer and this is English class, right? In order to see the connection a bit clearer, we have another video clip. This piece is by a soccer coach. Another athlete. It may seem off topic, but these are people with high-level skills. Soccer is a skill. Boxing is a skill. And writing is a skill. These are not merely talents or gifts. And, believe it or not, self-confidence is a skill.
This piece is a bit longer, a TEDxTalk that clocks in at about thirteen minutes but is worth every second. The title is “The Skill of Self-Confidence” by Dr. Ivan Joseph. In it, Dr. Joseph explains that, as a coach, he believes self-confidence can be trained.
While Dr. Joseph says he doesn’t use note cards and warns that his talk may go all over the place, he is very well-organized. In some ways, speeches like this are verbal essays. His thesis, or argument, is that self-confidence is a skill that can be developed. He gives us four ways to do this, along with personal examples:
- use repetition (persistence)
- stop negative self-talk (and start positive self-talk)
- build confidence in others (catch them when they’re good)
- take criticism or analyze feedback (in a way that benefits you)
As you can see, confidence can be developed and improved. These tips aren’t just about soccer or student athletes. This can be applied to a multitude of tasks, goals, skills, or hobbies.
First you saw a good example of self-confidence in boxer Muhammad Ali. Then you watched Dr. Ivan Joseph explain that self-confidence is a skill that can be developed, just like any other. Now we are ready to see some of this applied to the writing process. Despite the range of writing genres out there, several of the fundamental steps in the writing process are universal. You can observe this in essayists, poets, screenwriters, songwriters, reporters, and so on.
For this example, I want to share a video from The New York Times’ Diary of a Song series on YouTube. This episode focuses on English musician Ed Sheeran and his writing process as he came up with “Shape of You.” I actually don’t know a ton about him except his songs are everywhere. He holds all sorts of records for album sales and song downloads, and he’s an international star for his music. He’s won awards for his singing and songwriting. Even if it is not your type of music, generally, it is undeniable that Sheeran is prolific and successful. And he is, in part, a writer.
On top of employing some of the strategies from the TEDxTalk, Ed Sheeran also reminds us of several parts of the writing process:
Sheeran has brainstorming sessions with his producers and co-writers. He even outlines the song with the beat and uses his vocal mumbling as placeholders. He drafts the song by trying lyrics, trying different lyrics, and then deciding which is better. He does revision through a type of peer review with his collaborators. He edits lyrics based on feedback.
It should be pointed out that this song was written quickly, which is unique. But with all of the practice he has at songwriting, and the confidence he’s built along the way, it should be expected that he is faster at writing a song than the average person. In other words, he’s put in the work, just like Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan.
Even still, there are other writing tips to pick up from Sheeran’s process. For example, he even steps away from his work to play with Legos, which is imperative to big writing projects. This is why you need to take time on your writing projects—so you can get away and do something else for a while, which sometimes ignites a creative spark, or at least provides your mind a rest.
When learning the writing process, it is important to remember that you can build that skill with practice. Providing an opportunity to practice the writing process is part of what college English courses are supposed to do for you.
Similarly, the skill of self-confidence can also be developed. It isn’t an innate skill. It isn’t something you were just born with. Now you have examples of self-confidence from figures in sports and entertainment, but you also have some strategies to work on cultivating it for yourself. You can utilize this skill and continue to grow in your writing classes, subject courses, workplace, and beyond.