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.
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.