Have you been extra nice to yourself lately? If you’re a writer … the answer is probably: “…Mayyyybe?”
Writers — creators in general — are way too hard on themselves. We like making things, we feel good doing it. But we really want to feel like we’re doing a good job.
When we don’t feel that way — which happens much more often than we realize — we start to doubt if writing is even worth the struggle.
Why are we so judgmental of our own work? Because it’s the easiest to judge. It comes from us. We know it better than anyone.
But we can all learn to be critical without being so harsh. Here’s how.
Remind yourself that not everything you write is going to feel polished. And the simple reason for that? The majority of the time, it won’t be.
You have to make messes to make masterpieces. You have to do things wrong, you have to not do your best if you’re ever going to learn what you’re actually capable of. If what you’re writing seems terrible — well, it might be. That doesn’t mean it always will be, or that it will be the best thing you’ll ever write.
You’re going to write sentences you’re unsure of, paragraphs that just don’t “sound quite right.” You’re going to question whether or not this scene should stay or go. You’re going to ask yourself a million times if you’re doing any of this right.
What matters most is that you keep writing anyway. You can’t polish something unfinished. Even if a draft feels like the worst thing you’ve ever written, at least you have something to work with — something you can improve little by little until it meets your personal standards (if that’s even possible …).
Focus on how YOU feel about your work, not on how others MIGHT react. We’re all guilty of imagining how our future readers will react to certain parts of our stories. Sometimes, it’s what keeps you going when you’re starting to feel unsure. When you laugh at your own writing (admit it — it happens to you too), you picture others laughing too.
But there’s a dark side to this train of thought. If we focus too much on what people might think about our writing, we can begin to worry that they won’t like it. That they’ll tell everyone else not to read it. That our words aren’t actually good … that they never will be.
The best way to judge whether or not your writing is meaningful and readable is if it feels that way to you. Yes, your readers matter whether they exist yet or not. You are writing for their entertainment. But until you get your words in front of eyes, the only opinion that matters is yours.
Your inner critic will never stop talking, but you can tune it out. Here’s the truth not every writing expert will tell you: You will never stop doubting or judging yourself or your writing. There is no magic cure for self-criticism. But that doesn’t mean you can’t tone it down enough to avoid letting it interfere with your work.
We judge ourselves more harshly than everyone else does (even though it sometimes feels the other way around) because we genuinely want to do a good job. And deep down we know we are the only ones in control of whether or not we do the work “well.”
The problem is, we’re so used to seeing others’ work and the kinds of writing that gets high praise that we often can’t help but compare our drafts to their published masterpieces. When we do that, our writing just never feels “as good.” We immediately spiral into “I’ll never be good enough” self-talk. We get sad. We stop writing.
That negative self-talk will always be there. You will always hear it.
But you don’t have to listen to it.
You don’t have to care about the lies it’s telling you. You don’t have to let them stop you from doing the work you know you’re meant to do.
It’s one thing to say you’re not going to pay attention to your voice of doubt and another to actually ignore it. It’s not that simple for a lot of people — and that’s OK. Some have an easier time quieting their minds than others. As a writer, it’s often one of those things you learn to do the longer you do it, the more you practice it.
That voice in your head telling you that you’ll never achieve your dreams?
The best thing you can do to demote its scream to a whisper is to prove it wrong.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.