Critique Anxiety

Learning to accept critiques is something that a lot of writers struggle with. It’s so common that it can be hard to discuss bad critique experiences without people suspecting that really, you just can’t handle criticism.

Until recently, I thought I was past feeling intimidated by criticism. I got over my “But my vision is perfect just as it is!” phase when I was in my teens. I’ve been getting critiques on my work since I was 14. And it’s not like I think my work is perfect, or even great. In fact, I’m enough of a perfectionist that it’s hard for me to accept praise.

So me, afraid of criticism? Ha!

But a funny thing has happened. As I’ve gotten older and met more writers that I consider more accomplished than I am, and as my priorities have changed, showing people my work has become more intimidating than it used to be.

I think the issue comes down to two things. One, you would think that perfectionism would make you take criticism easily, but I’ve realized that perfectionism can circle around on itself and eat its own tail like an ouroboros. If you’re really hard on yourself and think you suck, you assume that other people will also tell you that you suck, and even if they don’t really think that, their advice can feel like rubbing salt in the wound. I’ve gotten better at this, but it’s tough.

Two, writing professionally isn’t a major focus or goal for me, but it is something that I’ve been more open to lately. I burned out in my late teens by putting a lot of pressure on myself to write the next Great American Novel and become a successful author, so for several years I put the thought of publication on the back burner and gave myself permission to write only for myself. As a result, I never felt like I was under much pressure to be great. I liked getting feedback on my work and improving my craft, but I was never aiming specifically to write at a professional level.

These days, I’m still not focusing on publication much, but it’s something that I’m interested in. My writing community includes a lot more people who have been commercially published, who have an agent, or who are aspiring toward commercial publication. While I don’t put pressure on myself as much as I did when I was younger, I’ve realized that I’m still intimidated by the possibility of having my work judged on a higher level than I’m used to, and the possibility of people realizing that I’m *not* at that level.

This isn’t, I realize, the healthiest way of evaluating my work. Nor is it feasible to become “perfect” prior to putting myself out there more. I have a tendency to want to get everything figured out on my own before doing anything, but there are limits to that. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and let people see that you’re imperfect. Sometimes you can’t grow as an artist without doing that.


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