Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

Why Writers are the Most Brutal Critics of other Writers

As writers, it seems our reputations precede us when it comes to giving harsh criticism to fellow writers.

But is it true? Are we each other’s most brutal critics?


As with any group we have members who are extremely critical of others and we have members who are fair and balanced, but tell it as they “see it” and we have members who are kind and provide beneficial feedback with care.

But what is true is that writers have a reputation for being brutal towards each other by giving criticism that is emotionally charged with harshness.

Such criticism causes us to doubt whether we should be writing at all or mucking sewers instead. Hey, I’ve done some mucking in my time friends and I don’t know about you, but I prefer to write!

Maybe you’re not one of the ruthless critics, but if you’ve ever read another writer’s writing and wanted to tear it apart and let the author know how dreadful it was or exactly how much you really didn’t like it, there may be a reason for that and it may help you to know what that reason is and what you can do about it.


It’s not you. It’s your internal naysayer taking over. I know, you may have believed we are so harsh because we can’t shut off our automatic editor mode, but just because we have feedback , it doesn’t mean we have to deliver it in an insensitive manner.  Does it?

No, of course not. But if we are having a particularly difficult day with our own doubt, then we may project it on to others. On those days we can be incredibly harsh and sincerely not mean to be, but once we hit the send on an email or publish a review on Amazon, that’s when we may suddenly realize we are being a tad overly critical with our feedback.

And sometimes, we don’t realize it at all and it’s not until someone says something to us (if they do) that we pay any attention to how we gave the feedback.

Unfortunately for you and me, writers deal with doubt more often than most anyone else. Because in order to write work that matters we must first conquer our doubt not only about whether we are any good as writers, but also if anyone will give a damn about what we are writing. (You do care, right?)

Every day when we sit down in front of our keyboards we must battle with all of our fears and conquer them just so we can do what we love to do. Some days we win the battle and write. Those days are glorious. Other days we lose and end up staring at the screen, visiting webpage after webpage and not writing much, or, at least, anything that makes any sense.

Doubt is not just a distraction.

It would be great if it was, because we can deal with distractions. No, that would be too easy. Doubt has a voice. Oh yes, it does, and it’s not a nice voice.

Here’s a list of what I tend to doubt about myself and my writing:

Am I really a writer?

Am I any good?

Will anyone care about what I write about?

Does my story make any sense to anyone else?

Do I constantly repeat myself?

Do I over edit?

Do my characters seem real? Do they have depth? Should I just go ahead and kill them all off now and give up writing forever?

Do I suck? No, I don’t. Yes, I do.

How bad do I suck? Bad! Really. The Titanic sunk because it knew that I would be born and try to become a writer.

I wish I could be as good as John Doe. He’s really good. He’s better than me. I hate him! Wait till I catch him with a typo… 

Jane Smith is getting so much attention and she’s not as good as I am. Her writing is so bad that I’d rather break out in hives than read it. I am going to review her book right now and let her know how terrible it is. That’ll make me feel better.

…and it goes downhill from there…

(Feel free to share what your doubt tries to make you believe in the comments.)

You know doubt has taken over when we start projecting such thoughts on other people and their writing. We can’t help it. Doubt can take over and lead us over proverbial cliffs. And who wants to jump alone?

Doubt messes with our minds in ways that are as deceptive as they are insidious.

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What can you do about it?

The first step is to come to terms with doubt. It’s real and you’re going to battle with it every day for the rest of your writing life. You can overcome it, and you’re going to have to overcome it over and over again. And you will!

Yes, indeed you will. Just before you start writing say something like, “Hello doubt, thank you for your concerns, but it’s time for me to write.” and start writing. Doubt wanted your attention and you gave it to it, so it will be quiet for a while.

Use positive affirmations to help you overcome doubt. Here’s a link to some great affirmations you can use. They really work.

State right now, “I am a writer!” Because you are.

You are not alone.

We all have our doubts to deal with and we all have days when we are ravaged and defeated by them. They can make us want to lash out and share the pain. You might not realize this, but I am certain if you consider it for a moment you’ll remember when you’ve done it. We all have.

Doubt can magnify our own insecurities, which can lead us to make rash, unsympathetic and harsh comments towards other writers, even though we don’t mean to. The solution is to always be intentionally kind with our feedback. Don’t even call it criticism.

The next time you offer someone feedback, consider how you would want to receive it and give it that way. Start with something positive, perhaps what worked and what you thought was particularly good. Then talk about what he or she can improve and what mistakes need to be corrected.

The key to feedback is that you want to give beneficial comments and at the same time encourage the writer to continue writing. This isn’t to say you are coddling, and if you think that, keep in mind that it’s your own doubt making you believe it. After all, how’s she going to improve if you’re nice? That’s doubt talking.

The kinder and more helpful you are to other writers the less influence your own doubt will have over you.

It’s true. What we say and how we treat others is a reflection of how we talk to and treat ourselves. The more you intentionally pay attention to and control your feedback the more you will overcome your own doubt.

What can you do if you receive harsh feedback?

You need to know that emotionally charged feedback is never about you. It’s about the other person. This doesn’t mean you haven’t made any mistakes or that you shouldn’t read the criticism to find nuggets of helpful information, it just means the harshness of it is not about you.

Don’t argue with the critic.

It won’t help and it will just cause you to doubt your writing even more. If someone is trying to hurt you with their criticism then it is best to move on and find someone else to help you. Feedback given with grace is more beneficial to your writing than judgmental, opinionated criticism ever can be. We are more likely to use feedback given with care than feedback given to be so-called brutally honest.

Who is the most brutal critic of all?

You are. No one can be harder on you than you.

It doesn’t need to be that way.

You can be honest with yourself without being “brutally” honest. We’ve been taught that blunt honesty is what we need in order to improve as writers, but what that has turned into is a license to inflict harsh criticism and say it’s for the sake of the writer. It’s not. It never has been.

It’s for doubt’s sake, boys and girls. And doubt is a manipulating trickster.

We need to know that what we are doing is worthwhile and we need encouragement to continue. At the same time we need to stretch and become better writers.

You won’t become a better writer if you don’t believe it’s worthwhile and if you’re not encouraged to do so.

We don’t need to beat ourselves over the head with a sledgehammer to improve, because it doesn’t work. All that does is feed our doubt exactly what it wants and create the vicious cycle of never believing we are good enough.

You are good enough. You are a writer!

Consider someone’s writing you read recently, what can you say to the author that will encourage her to continue writing and at the same time help her improve? Share in the comments.

This post was a short, adapted excerpt from “Writer’s Doubt,” and if you’d like to read the rest in its entirety, don’t hesitate to get yourself a copy of the book while the first edition is still available.

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • Jessica Baverstock

    You’ve really hit the core of the issue. “What we say and how we treat others is a reflection of how we talk to and treat ourselves.” If we engage in harsh self-talk, then we’re more likely to expect that others are okay with the same standard.
    Thank you for being so blunt. I used to feel that if someone was willing to give feedback I should always use them as a beta reader, even if I found the experience emotionally harrowing. This post made me stop and think. My doubt trebles every time I get that feedback, so why put myself through it? I can find others who will make the experience more rewarding.
    We writers don’t need to be tortured souls. It’s perfectly okay to be a happy and productive person.

    • Exactly, Jessica. “We writers don’t need to be tortured souls. It’s perfectly okay to be a happy and productive person.” Totally agree. 🙂

  • Lauren R. Tharp

    The other day I was checking out the finalists for a writing contest (in a forum where the readers vote for the winner) and the first comment was “Were the finalists chosen at random?”

    Admittedly some of the stories the judges chose weren’t to my taste either, but that comment was just so RUDE and catty and reeked of sour grapes. So…not classy. And, quite frankly, it was cruel — because (obviously!) the writers of those stories were going to read it and the wind would be taken out of their sails. What should have been such a “YES!” moment for those individuals was immediately tainted. And that was unfair.

    It made my heart hurt. Because while I can (most of the time) blow off comments like that and keep on trekking, I know that so many other writers take them SO hard and end up losing steam.

    This was a very nice post, Bryan. It’s a great, gentle, reminder not to let doubt get the best of us and keep shouting “I *am* a writer!”

    • Lauren R. Tharp

      PS: Speaking of shouting “I am a writer,” are you still planning to make an e-book out of the contest posts from back in August? 🙂

      • Yes, that is rude, Lauren. I wish people wouldn’t do that.

        About the eBook, it’s a great idea, but I just haven’t had the time to collect, edit and put all of the posts together. I may have bitten off more than I can chew with that one. With releasing my new book and completing my current book I’ve been working on, and working my day job, I honestly haven’t found the time. I’m sorry. Maybe I can get someone help me with it. I do hope to get to completing it. When I finish the book I am currently working on I plan on taking a break from writing books for a while and I should have some extra time to focus on creating the eBook from the contest.

        • Lauren R. Tharp

          Well, there’s certainly no need to rush on my account. I’m very happy for all your recent successes. 🙂 I was just making sure I hadn’t missed it!

          • You haven’t. I wouldn’t let you! 🙂

          • Lauren R. Tharp

            Haha. Thank you very much.

  • Bryan,

    Good post. And I know it will resonate with many. Being someone who was only criticized and not praised I have had to learn to add grace to what I say and sometimes it still needs a light sanding. I mean well, but sometimes I focus in on what’s wrong and the listener doesn’t hear what I do like. I am a work in progress though and each time I leave a comment for Tribe Writers, hopefully will give me more experience.

    Haven’t seen you around the Facebook page. We’ve been missing you.

    • Thank you, Anne. I think you have a great approach to the feedback you give and I’d like to see more people use the grace you’re blessed with giving.

  • katina vaselopulos

    I like your post, Brian, a lot! I have gone through the doubt and negativity with my own book but with great encouragement and constructive criticism I learned to trust, both others and myself. I am not a hard critic…always see something good in everything. I was brought up with praise and support and I return that automatically. With my self, I make demands, but at the end I get to trust my inner voice. What I write might not be the greatest for many, but, I know it has been dictated to me by the Universe and that is what I have to write. Wishing you all the best in this new venture of yours. One of these days, when Life eases up on me and my family, I will get all your books and learn a few lessons from your wisdom.
    Hints about our own TW editor? 🙂

    • I love that, Katina! Thank you. Hmmm, a hint? The Write Practice.

  • “The Titanic sunk because it knew that I would be born and try to become a writer.” Classic line! Thanks for the truth and encouragement. Grace and peace.

  • Ashley

    This was such an influential post to me. From time to time I doubt my writing, and I think it is because what we write can be seen great by one person, and awful by another.

  • Needed to hear the truth of these words today Bryan ~ thanks…great post!

  • renee

    Doubt is such a human experience. I doubt my effectiveness as a parent, spouse, seeker . . .

    The moment that comes after doubt is choice, what do we do with out doubt?

    Great post.

    Be Blessed.

  • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    This is so good Bryan, I wanted to read more! Keep up the good work and great writing. 🙂

  • Bryan – really appreciate the perspective….great food for THOT. Doubts have a way of really eroding the truth about ourselves. When you step out to be different, to make a difference…..you are OPPOSED…..a target…….because you are about to do some good….sort of like the results of this timely post!!

    I am in the embryonic stages of creating the life I want through writing…..because I get joy in doing so……I wrote this post in the summer…..and it was my Declaration of Independence so to speak….


    Ps…..I can’t wait until I get a SUBSCRIBE here link built as my list is manual at the moment…

    • Ha! I remember that post, Bruce. Really enjoyed it. Sounds like you are on your way with your blog. I like the look and feel of it, very inviting and worth reading.

  • Thanks again, Bryan. I have been doubting myself from the first word I wrote. Some days I don’t write anything – the inner critic is wins before a word is written. Can you believe it, I wrote more than 50 000 words for NaNo and it’s a terrible first draft, I fell in love with writing for the sake of writing. The novel is far from done and critics will have a field day, I don’t care – I am trying and will keep trying.
    With the encouragement of POSITIVE WRITER, i.e. you, Bryan, I will learn to believe in myself.
    Keep going please, keep helping us lonely writers..its a tough profession.

    • WOW 50,000 words???? That’s amazing, Patricia. I’m impressed!!!

      • I am impressed too, ha ha. Never thought I can do this. If you believe in yourself… or even better yet.. JUST DO IT.

  • Chéri Vausé

    As a fellow victim of this practice, I know what you are saying is true. I had a fellow writer read my work and she told me, “I don’t say things like that when I’m angry.” For a nanosecond I had doubts. Then, I remembered something that the great Sol Stein said, that dialogue must advance the story, that if you made dialogue sound the way people talk it would be a very boring book. There must be a balance. I learned that lesson so well that I keep it in mind when I write my dialogue. I love snappy dialogue. I want it to crackle. I want it to make you laugh or cry. At that point, I decided to side with Mr. Stein rather than the no-name writer who writes at a fifth grade level. My readers are screaming at me to write a sequel because they adored the way my characters talked. So much for the fellow writer’s critique.

    Many lessons have been learned over this year, and I made the conscious choice to only do reviews when the person insists. I find what’s good about it and talk about that. I mention the faults in a gracious way rather than beating up the writer. However, I’m avoiding doing reviews, I’m avoiding circles, I’m avoiding fellow writers editing my work. An editor edits, a writer writes. Writers may know something about editing, but they must allow the writer his style rather than injecting themselves into the work. Editors learn this process, they know what they are doing. Writers do not. Shall I repeat this? Editors learn this process, they know what they are doing. Writers do not. Do not ask someone to edit your work who has no experience editing. Do not ask some newbie writer to review your work. If you can’t afford an editor, go to a university and ask for a graduate student who has learned how to edit to review your work. Give them credit in your book, which will help launch their career, as well as, yours.

    Thank you for this post. Now, I know I am not alone.

    • I’ve learned the hard way that you’re right. Editing is a very specific job and you need a good editor for your work. Your work deserves it. I think we get in the habit of asking fellow writers and writer’s groups because we try to save money, but in the long run paying an editor is worth its weight in gold.

  • GREAT topic – well done. Really got me thinking.

    My doubts? (I write non-fiction, btw)

    * It’s too long for non-readers (even tho’ I write for me and share for READERS)

    * It’s expecting too much “fill-in-the-blanks” from readers — doesn’t explain well-enough (um, maybe the reason I write long?)

    * It doesn’t speak to each and every modality **at all times**
    * not enough examples – or – no one will find examples relate well enough
    * needs more references – or – fact checking is dated; there is probably later info now (ah yes! the black hole of i’net fact checking!!)

    And THIS one is really insidious — the FORMAT is wrong for the neuro-diverse (so I play with fonts and spacing instead of writing content)

    There are others, of course (and even these show up in different words), but those above are the ones that alert me best to what I’m really doing — DOUBTING myself and shutting down – and that what I need to do is get back on the horse and RIDE.
    mgh (ADDandSoMuchMore)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –

    • Great to see you visit over here, Madelyn! I think you do an awesome job with your blog and you’re posts are always informative and helpful. I love how you are able to maintain in spite of your doubts. 🙂

  • Vicki Boyd

    I’m glad that I took the time to go back and read this particular blog. It gave me ammunition that I need to stock in my arsenal. Now when doubt comes creeping, or crashing into my work, I have a tool to shoot that Bad Boy down.

  • Linda

    I have read this several times, and I would value some opinions of other writers. I have loved to read and write since the first time I held a book in my hand. I read hundreds of books a year and love to get the freebies from Kindle and Story Cartel because they allow me to experience new authors that I would never be aware of.
    This past week I encountered a situation that baffles me as a writer and a reader.

    One of the books I read is awful. The book is full of sentences that make no sense; examples “It’s not me son” “The heels are so high it must be a rock” . I am not exaggerating when I state that there are at least one hundred such ridiculous occurrences so far in the book (I stopped reading after a little over the halfway point!). When the mystery is not “who done it” but, instead, what the heck is she talking about?, well, I can’t waste my time.
    Here is the part that is really confusing me. This author has written and is in the process of writing more books. She has 58 reviews at the time of this writing on this one book alone, the book has a 4+ star rating, only half a dozen of the reviews mention the need for a proof reading. Some of the reviews mention loving her writing style. This is NOT personal taste, it is sloppy, incoherent writing. Some mention the great role models in the book when all but a couple are conniving, backstabbing, power hungry people.

    How does this happen? How does a book get a 4.5 rating and almost 60 reviews when so full of obvious flaws? I think that we have some responsibility to listen to critique on our writing, even negative, but there must be a balance. I picture this author with her fingers in her ears calling critics “haters” and squashing her doubt..and trust me, the doubt should be embraced in this case!

    I am really disturbed by this for some reason. Is it because she has the courage (audacity?) to put her work out there when mine is buried in notebooks and files because it is “not good enough”? Has our society degraded to the point that mixed verbs, lack of punctuation, and words like “only just”, and “her voice said to her” are acceptable? Part of me IS angry that a person would call this a book and part of me IS angry that so many people would give so many stars to a book that needs basic proofreading, before editing.

    • Hi Linda,

      Obviously I can’t comment about the quality of the other person’s work because I have not read it and I don’t know what it is. But I do think you hit the nail on the head in your last paragraph.

      The thing that usually angers us the most as creatives is when someone else does something we want to do, but we are holding back for some reason. Then when we discover the other person isn’t as good as we are, or has some flaws, we see those and say to ourselves ‘see this is the reason why I am not rushing into it, or I haven’t done it yet.’ But it still angers us that the other person did do it and it gets worse when we see that they are succeeding.

      So, I don’t think the issue is with the other book or the quality of the writing, it may have more to do with the fact you are holding back. A good rule of thumb is to never compare yourself to others, whether they seem better or worse. It will likely just give you another reason to stall. When we compare ourselves to others we all tend to follow a pattern, which is to call other people who liked it (or disliked it) liars, that they are deluding themselves and that they are just coddling etc. When really, it has nothing to do with them either. I could ask you to consider that maybe, just maybe, the other reviewers were sincere and genuinely liked the book. What would your reaction be? That they are idiots? Or, that maybe there’s something about the book that appeals to them, but does not appeal to you?

      So you see, it’s rarely about other people, their work or what other people say about their work. It’s about ourselves. You don’t have to like a book or even think it is well written, especially if it is not, but you have to try to be honest with yourself about why it angers you so much. When you have THAT answer then you can solve the real issue. That’s just my thoughts on the matter. I hope you publish your work!

      • Linda

        Bryan, thanks for your thoughtful response.
        I have given this several days to think on and here is what I have come up with so far.
        First, I do NOT knock a book or a writer just because I don’t like the book or identify with the style of writing. I pass books on or delete them, but don’t get angry or critical. I DO have issues with writers who publish their books with sloppy grammar and incoherent sentences! On the one hand this could be because it demonstrates lack of respect for the reader who tries to insert the lacking punctuation in an attempt to understand the words. It could be because it shows a lack of respect for the industry as a whole, as a careless nurse or reckless cab driver reflects poorly on their fields. It could be because it is a waste and misuse of a talent and gift because a gifted writer (in the case I mentioned the story was good, the book could have been very good) because the writer was too lazy, unconcerned, whatever to clean it up. In looking over the reviews regarding this book it does appear that most of the glowing reviews are written by people who reviewed only one book and used very similar terms….I have theories!
        However, as you pointed out, it is not about this book, but about me. I am left to ponder if it is not even more of a waste of talent to bury my work because it is not perfect. I think the anger is actually because the ARE doing what I lack courage to do, putting myself out there in all my imperfection.

        I wish I wrote fiction because it would be less scarey to put out a book of fictional people and places than what my writing is about….life. Messy, confusing, wonderful life!

        So, thanks. I Hope I publish too.

        • Linda – I read your comments and although i haven’t read the book you are speaking of, I have seen similar reviews of sloppily written books. Poor grammar, too many cliches, misspelled words, etc. And these books get four and five star ratings. I won’t hesitate to call a book what it is and point out such things. Perhaps this writer has many “friends” whom she promised something in return for a good review, or your theory is correct.

          However, may I encourage you to keep writing? Take this book (or any other sloppily written one) and use it for the positive. Say, “I can do better than that!”

          I am also hoping for publication this upcoming year.

          • I thought about this a little more and it reminds me of what I told an outstanding employee who worked for me years ago when I was a manager of a bookstore. She hated when her co-workers slacked off or were not holding up their end (in her opinion) and she drew attention to herself and caused herself to stumble by continuously complaining about the other employees to the point it didn’t matter how great a worker she was because she was causing so much friction and disrupting her own performance (as well as others).

            I told her not to worry about what others were doing (or not doing), because if they aren’t taking care of their part it WILL catch up to them, and besides, if others slacked of it only made her performance look even better (if she let it) which could result in a promotion for her.

            The cream always rises to the top and as writers it is NOT our job to become the gatekeepers. Becoming gatekeepers and getting upset with what others are doing will only hurt OURSELVES. Frustration is an enemy within and 9 times out of 10 we create our own frustrations, when if we just focus on what WE are doing ourselves we can free ourselves to do the best that we can do.

            Don’t worry about slackers, in the end it will catch up with them without your help, and sometimes what we perceive of others isn’t as accurate as we think. One of the people the employee complained about is now a high performing executive and the one who complained, well, I don’t know whatever became of her…

            In all my years I have never met someone who overly worries and complains about the performance of peers become better for it, ever. The opposite always seems to happen. That moment of feeling release when pointing out flaws is quite deceptive.

            Just food for thought.

  • La McCoy

    Well said

  • Hallo Bryan, and merry Christmas. I haven’t been writing anything – spending time with my son who is flying back to Europe tomorrow. Your post again confirm that we really should not be so critical of ourselves.
    Self doubt is any creative person’s nightmare.
    That is why The Positive Writer is here. You have your ‘job’ cut out for you.
    Anyway, thank you, as always for your encouragement.

    • Merry Christmas to you, too, Patricia. Always great to hear from you!

  • Bryan – hope you had a Merry Christmas. I’m just getting around to catching up with my reading. As usual, you’ve written another great and encouraging post. I often doubt myself and I need all the help I can get. As writers, we must have thick skin, but when we critique other writer’s work, we need to be mindful of our words and our tone of voice. I’m part of a weekly writing group where we share and critique. We offer suggestions, never in a negative way, but in a way that will help the writer make the article, short story, book, etc. become better.

    One of my pet peeves is when I read a review on Amazon and the reviewer criticizes the book simply because they didn’t like the genre. (I see this often when someone reads a Christian fiction book and they “claim” not to have known it was Christian before they bought it.) Hello! Read the fine print and don’t be critical just because you don’t agree with the author’s viewpoint.

    Hope you and Joan have a Happy New Year!

    • Hi Joan, Merry Christmas! And Happy New Year!!

      Oh, wow, that’s a pet peeve of mine, too! I read a couple reviews like that on a book that a friend wrote (an outstanding book btw) and it really irked me that people criticize a book for including something that was obviously mentioned on the back cover synopsis. It’s not the authors fault if the reader didn’t read what the book was about. lol

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