“If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready’.” – David Mitchell, Black Swan Green
Writers are not the most social human beings. We spend most of our time writing or contemplating. We put our entire soul into a single novel or short story, and then we are faced with the greatest fear of all: criticism. Have you ever been so worried about being judged, that you preferred not to express your opinions at all? That’s how I used to feel all the time.
Most people didn’t understand why I kept my manuscripts in a drawer for so long. I got some “brilliant” advice that was supposed to make me braver. “Why did you spend all that time working on it? Don’t you want someone to read it? Everyone gets criticized… what makes you special?” It’s like telling a suicidal person “the world is beautiful and you have plenty to live for,” – such words won’t get to him.
Why Do I Call It a Fear?
Can’t I just say “I don’t like being criticized”? It’s much more than a preference. I doubt anyone likes getting harsh comments on their accomplishments, but it’s certainly easier to deal with an insightful family dinner or the occasional performance review at work. For writers, criticism gets personal. Editors, agents, literary critics, Goodreads and Amazon users… everyone is eager to trash their creations. They have the final say. It doesn’t matter how much I love what I’ve written; it’s no good if the readers don’t like it.
This fear led to many blockades during the writing process. I was unable to unlock my creativity, since I thought my ideas would be too much or too shallow for the readers. When the work was ready to be reviewed by an editor, the fear got much worse.
I have a close friend who is not afraid to tell me what she thinks about my work. Thanks to her advice, I’m usually able to fill in some gaps and get rid of stupid words that seemed cool when I first wrote them. She is nice and does her best not to hurt my feelings. I wish her approach made me more comfortable waiting for her opinion, but it didn’t. This is how I would describe my state while I was expecting for her judgment: completely helpless. I always expected the worse and I doubted everything I had done. Let me tell you how things started changing.
Turning the Attention Inwards
This will sound lame… I started attending a meditation course. It wasn’t an online program I would do “in the comfort of my home”. I found a real teacher who guided me through each step. The ability to observe my own thoughts and emotions without being attached to them made a real difference.
I finally learned how to create something I would love. As it turned out, I was the best critic of my own work. I recognized my own flaws and I forgave them to myself. Then, I was able to improve my writing before enabling anyone to read it. When I knew I had done everything in my power to make it right, the expectation for criticism didn’t throw me into despair.
The Tips that Work: How Writers Can Overcome Fear of Criticism
This was the most important thing I realized during a long meditative session: I didn’t choose to be a writer just to make readers happy. I chose this path because writing was everything for me. It was the only thing that made me feel complete. It was time to discover that joy that was lost somewhere along the way.
If the fear of being criticized is blocking you, you should start from there! Remind yourself why you write. That inner urge that makes you dig through your thoughts and emotions is the force that guides you.
It’s impossible to ignore the haters on Amazon. I cannot teach you how to do that, since the comments are important for your personal improvement. However, I realized they no longer have destructive power if I am absolutely confident in the power of my book. Remember: you couldn’t possibly get positive feedback from every single reader. There is only one way to thicken your skin: don’t worry about the people who don’t understand your work. Shift your attention towards the ones that do.
Now that you have a starting point, are you ready to make a change and deal with this fear?
Photo by Lauren Finkel