How I Overcame My Fear of Being Criticized

fear being criticized

“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

13 thoughts on “How I Overcame My Fear of Being Criticized”

  1. Hi Maria, I went through this pain leading up to the ‘release’ of my blog in 2013. I’d kept my writing very much hidden away, even though it’s something I’ve wanted to do (ie, be a professional writer) since I was a child.

    Two events in my childhood stick in my mind as pointers to my passion – a fantastic teacher who recognised the writer in me and then winning a writing contest (again in school). But many years passed and my passion was buried along with my writing ambitions.

    Then, in 2012 I let my husband read some of the things I’d written and he was surprised (why hadn’t I shown him sooner?!), supportive and encouraging. The rest, as they say, is history.

    As for those who may criticise, then so be it. That’s life, ‘haters gonna hate’ as they say. I love to write, for myself and for those who are interested in reading it. Fear no longer holds me back.

    Off to check you out on twitter now, thanks :)

    1. Nicola, thanks for sharing your experience. Support is always important, regardless of the fears and struggles we are facing. It’s strange how we need other people to remind us of our own strengths, isn’t it?

  2. It’s hard to have your writing criticized, because it is so personal. Your perceptions, your thoughts, your experiences, your beliefs–they become the story, the characters, the problem, the setting. It’s not just the writing that people might hate, but you. Nice piece…I have nothing negative to say about it. ;)

    1. Exactly! That’s the root of the problem – we take criticism personally, and I think there is no other way for writers to take it. No matter how much progress we make, harsh comments will always hurt. But, we cannot allow the fear to prevent us from publishing. Thanks for the comment, I appreciate it.

  3. I have just recently began posting things for other eyes to see. They have been stories from my own life. I was told in college by a teacher that I had a knack for writing. Still, until it is put out there, I would wonder what sort of reaction, if any, it would generate. Would I face the ‘Attack of the Trolls’; would my skills be criticized? Or would it just go unnoticed and die in the ethers of the internet? The most recent thing I posted didn’t receive a single comment, although it had several likes. But, I got the most amazing and wonderful reaction to it through a private e-mail. It made my day. The thing is, you have to write for your own creative soul, and if someone finds delight, or inspiration from something you have written, then, even better. Continue feeding your soul.

    1. I’m so glad for you Chas! Yes, writers shouldn’t write for other people to like them. We write because it’s impossible not to. You’re right, when writers stop thinking about the impression they are going to leave, they get freedom to follow their calling.

  4. Thanks Maria.
    As someone about to release their own book and having just started a new blog, these sorts of posts are a helpful reminder to trust one’s instincts.

    I wonder if it comes from a sense of inferiority. Perhaps believing other people are more worthy, more knowledgeable, more important in their views, thus their one line comment is enough to make us writers question our belief in our work.

    1. I believe you have a point, Alex; feeling inferior can certainly make you scared of criticism. However, the fear is present even when writers like the work they completed. There are layers and layers to explore, but we inevitably come down to a single conclusion: criticism is part of our work and we have to learn how to deal with it.
      Congratulations for your book and blog. You got this!

  5. Regardless of what all those people said to you, I’m so glad that you were able to put it behind you and move forward. You remained optimistic about your writing. I would like to just say that your piece of work is phenomenal. Keep writing and stay strong! You have an amazing gift to write. Just remember that!

  6. Great post, Maria! I had no idea meditation could help overcome the fear of being criticized – I’ll need to try this one out as it’s something that – as for most people out there – often holds me back.

  7. Hi Maria, I really liked the way you portrayed the very common problem of every creative individual. But the way I see it, creative people are normally like to be in a cave where they can’t be found. They make their own world of imagination and with that tool they’re able to come up with some distinct new idea which might not fit in the real world. But not many people can achieve it the way they do. I don’t fear any criticism you know why? because I think my own creativity shouldn’t be influenced by anything else but my own imagination. And yes I don’t fear sharing my piece of art with the masses because the words driven from the heart always have weight.

    So, keep up the good work keep on writing because you’re best at it.
    Best of luck.

  8. Gosh Maria! You are so brave. How difficult it is to be so harshly critiqued by those in your industry. I’m so glad you pushed through the negativity and are KILLING IT on the other side! I’m touched by your story.

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