Let’s be honest. We writers are an anxious bunch. We’re afraid to share our work. Sometimes we’re even afraid to write it. The greatest fear looming over most of us is the fear of judgement, the fear that someone will take a vulnerable piece of our soul put into words and decide we are somehow lesser because of it.
Sit with Your Fear
The first step towards overcoming fear is identifying its source. Fear of judgement is a pretty broad term. What exactly are you afraid of? Do you think someone in your personal life won’t like particular story elements? Do you get a white-knuckle grip on your mouse as you browse through Twitter drama and “critique?”
Try a mindfulness session to dig out your fear’s roots. Get comfortable with fear. Realize it’s fine to experience anxiety and worry, then trace deeper to other emotions and motivations tangled up with your fears about writing. Is it a fear of rejection? Are you wondering who you are outside of writing? Only ask these questions when you feel safe and comfortable. The answers may surprise you. They can also promote better mental health, and you may just find benefits outside your authorial pursuits.
If you feel like a fraud as you write, you may be dealing with imposter syndrome. You may also be struggling to write honestly. Do you stop to wonder what other people want from your writing as you piece together your first draft? Do you finish and realize you aren’t very invested in the heart of your creation, that it’s just something you typed rather than really wrote?
This is a sign that your fear of judgement is hampering your voice. After you’ve tried the mindfulness activity above, write about the fears you uncovered. Find something that matters to you and just spill your guts on the page. You can tidy it up so others will understand what you’ve written later.
Fear stymies your ability to create, but it can also fuel it. How do you think horror writers do it? Fear isn’t always scary clowns and hungry shadows. Great fiction always addresses some kind of fear, and the best way to discover what makes your voice unique and powerful is to find what most scares you and stops you from writing in the first place. Turn the snare into a weapon.
Use a Pseudonym
A pseudonym provides a practical solution for those afraid to publish under their own names. Lots of fanfiction, creepypasta, and Reddit authors do this automatically. Take a page from their book (and from famous authors like Stephen King) and write under an assumed identity if it makes you feel more secure. We can only be confident when we feel safe, after all, and we can only address our fears when we have steady footing.
Realize You Don’t Own or Control Others’ Response
Even in the worst-case scenario – some troll decides to pick on you as their new favorite pastime or a reader takes offense at something in your book – that really doesn’t have much to do with you. No matter what they say, they aren’t really talking about you. They’ve never met you.
Think of it as making a great meal. You used quality ingredients and got coached by a professional chef. Most people love what you made, but there’s one neighbor at the dinner party who just hates potatoes, and since you dared to use potatoes you’re trash, your food is trash, and your ambition to cook a meal for them is downright rude. Sound like an overreaction? It is. Everyone has different tastes. There are a great classics I don’t personally enjoy. You don’t have to please everyone to write a great story. You’ve also made plenty of meals (with and without potatoes).
Who doesn’t like potatoes, anyway?
You can’t control what others think or do. Those who judge your work have created a specific vision of you connected to your work. It may not resemble you much. Even if it does, it’s effectively an alternate reality version of your authorial self. You will never be able to control their perception of you, and once you realize that, you’ll find a lot less fear weighing you down.