It’s hard to write when all you’re thinking about is what people will think of your ideas. This kind of pressure is inescapable, especially if you’re doing something new, something outside your comfort zone, or something people won’t expect of you. Every writer’s pressure is different, shaped by gender, class, race, experience, and countless other things, but it’s all just different forms of judgment. The standards for perfectionism and comparison vary from person to person but the reality is that judgment—self-judgment, external judgment, and internalized judgment—are very real things and they suck the life right out of any kind of creative work.
So how do we write in a world full of judgment?
Don’t take yourself so seriously
Little baby ideas are fragile, newly formed things. They can’t handle scrutiny, hard cracks, and the intensity of immediate criticism. They haven’t even formed yet! If you allow your ideas to be battered with all the judgment before they can even finish taking shape you’ll be left with nothing to write about.
Let your ideas be the little kids they are and play. Play is the antidote to judgment.
“Play is the antidote to judgment.”
Experiment. Try new things, wild things, unusual and quirky things. Try things that are too clichéd, too silly, too big, too intense, too dark. Try things people have done before. Try things no one has ever done. Try things you’ve thought of but didn’t do because [insert reason you came up with]. See what happens.
You might write some really awful stuff that you never want to show to anyone. And you might write the most brilliant, beautiful, moving and meaningful things. You’ll never know until you try.
You’re not alone
No matter who you are, you’ve heard those voices that tell you your ideas aren’t good enough, aren’t smart enough, aren’t unique enough, or aren’t interesting enough. Or maybe they’re too silly, too weird, too simple, too complex.
Too much or not enough. That’s the thing. We all have those voices. None of us are alone. All of us have stories to tell.
I will leave you with this quote from Virginia Woolf. She was writing to women, of course, and women definitely need to hear this (write, women write!) but there’s truth here for all of us: “I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject, however trivial or however vast…. for books have a way of influencing each other. Fiction will be much the better for standing cheek by jowl with poetry and philosophy.” She’s right. Every voice that’s added to the body of story makes it richer, more varied, and more vibrant.
“I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject, however trivial or however vast.”–Virginia Woolf
Some homework to get you started
Letting those ideas form that we usually squash takes practice. Most of these exercises will make you uncomfortable, especially if you show what you write to someone afterwards (you don’t have to). The discomfort is the point. Practice being uncomfortable and it gets easier. Sit with what you’ve written and see if that discomfort is telling you something true or not. Not all writing is meant for other people, not all ideas are fantastic, but some of them are and you’ll never know what kind of ideas yours are, if you never push past the point of being comfortable.
- Write about a moment in your life that was deeply painful or embarrassing.
- Write about something you’re not supposed to talk about.
- Write about something you’re learning.
- Write about something silly and trivial.
-Laurie, Associate Editor
Header Image Devin Edwards