On Writing And The Fear Of Judgment

We all have fears that we need to conquer as authors.

BaptistryJudgment

Judgment in the dome of the Baptistry, Florence

Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, and for some even fear of success.

But for me, it’s fear of judgment – fear of what people will think of my writing and me as a person when they read my books. Do you feel the same way?

On a personal note, my writing is getting darker – or perhaps it was always dark, and now I’m just getting into my stride. After all, Pentecost opens with a nun being burned alive on the ghats at Varanasi, Prophecy features the ritual murder of a child in a bone church and Exodus has a scene with ritual sex in a tomb.

The book I have just finished, Desecration (currently with beta-readers) is definitely towards the horror end of the thriller spectrum. Within the murder mystery at the heart of the story is a tale of body modification, ritual murder, the art of corpses and a consideration of dualism, whether our physical body defines us. (If you like the sound of it, you can sign up to my J.F.Penn fiction mailing list here).

So I’ve written dark things before but this is the first time I haven’t censored myself as I write. I’ve given the dark side of my mind permission to indulge but as I am about to start the rewrites, I find myself on the edge of crossing things out, not because they need editing, but because I don’t want people to read them and judge me for my thoughts.

But then why do we write if not to tackle the fears that others look to us to conquer?

So how do we tackle this fear of judgment?

(1) Use a pseudonym

Many erotica authors use pseudonyms to protect their identities and it’s definitely the way to go if fear is stopping you from writing at all. But I want to put my name to Desecration and my other books because part of me wants to acknowledge that these thoughts are mine.

(2) Be strong and steadfast but also surround ourselves with people who understand us.

mass grave

Mass grave at the Dohany Street Synagogue, Budapest

My husband is fortunately understanding of my desire to visit strange spots when we go on holiday. So in Budapest, we spent our time at the House of Terror where Communists tortured people to death as well as the mass grave in the old Ghetto of the synagogue. In Paris it was the catacombs where the remains of 6 million people lie in macabre underground decorative crypts.

These macabre interests are part of me and so I hope you too can find like-minded people who support your research and career. I can definitely recommend the Alliance of Independent Authors if you want to hang out with people who understand the weirdness of being a writer!

(3) Understand that embracing the shadow side is psychologically healthy

In Jungian psychology the shadow is a critical part of our whole self. Life is not all sweetness and light and there is but a thin veneer of civilization over our ancient animal genetics. Death and fear, violence and sex will always be part of our culture so as writers it’s important to embrace that and reflect it in our writing. I am acknowledging the shadow more in my own work, and also feel that when the things we fear are on the page, they have less power over us.

(4) Understand the book is not you

When people judge your book, remember that they are not judging you as a person. I write of ritual murder, but clearly that’s not what I do in my life, which is mainly spent in libraries and at my computer :) If you hang out on this blog, you’ll know I am unfailingly positive and generally very happy! We are all complex creatures, so our work is merely one aspect of our character at a specific point in time.

The easiest way to deal with this is to write another book, because who we are right now changes and the next book is something else again … we morph as our work does, or vice versa :) I find the fear of judgment lessens with every book I put out there, because I can just move on.

Do you suffer from fear of judgment? How do you deal with it? Please do leave a comment so I don’t think I am the only one!

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Comments

  1. says

    Thank you very much for your post , i like stories in my native language , i dream to write stories in English but i always felt my English is not that good to write stories.i fear people may laugh for my grammatical /spelling mistakes.but after reading this post i am determined to write stories in English , thank you very much for this post.

        • Samantha says

          Sravan,
          You’re English seems better than most people who speak it as their native language. Just get on Facebook and read a few posts, it should definitely boost your confidence. *facepalm* I agree with an English editor and write away. As to the issue of being afraid to write, I’m in the same boat. I write memoirs, and I’m scared what peoplease will think when they read how I really feel about certain things. Religion, politics, etc. It’s scary. But the authors I love have always pushed boundaries & that’s why I love them. So maybe…just maybe…

          • says

            @samantha

            Thanks for your comment , thanks for your encouragement , i never thought my English is comparable to others.your comment raised my confidence levels.thank you very much,wish you all luck , have a wonderful life.

      • says

        After reading this blog post , commenting for this post and the replies i got from you and Samantha gave me courage to start http://prakamya.org

        i am no more thing of being judged by others , just focusing on writing.

        Thanks for your website , specially for this post.

  2. says

    I found this interesting, Joanna. I’ve written non-fiction for ten years (magazine articles and books) so when it came to my first novel (Jaguar), I considered a nom-de-plume. Yet like you, I thought no, to hell with it! This is ‘me’ expressing my imagination. Many purchasers, knowing my non-fiction work, were a bit surprised that I could write about sex and slaughter, with some injection of humour too. It really amused me, as normally I write about hunting and field-craft yet some of my ‘followers’ found the novel ‘squeamish’! They all hit me with 5 star reviews though, encouraging the next one. Keep up the good work!

    • Joanna Penn says

      I’m glad you understand – I find the brand juggling quite difficult – but it all represents parts of me! All the best with your sex and slaughter!

  3. says

    Fear of Judgement for me has been awful and liberating. I hate feeling stupid and that exactly how I feel before I have someone read my work. Once they’ve finished and haven’t burst out laughing it liberates me to move on… but only slightly. I guess it might take a while before I finally get past the fear…

    • Joanna Penn says

      I hate feeling stupid too, David! I don’t know if we will ever lose this fear – so we just have to move past it regardless!

  4. says

    I could care less of what the people think once my work is published. However when my first draft is just sitting waiting to get finished I fear that someone might read it and try to destroy my writing because of the negative thoughts that is odd for my culture, because I’m a female and my family “values.”

  5. Ruben Vasquez says

    I have a growing passion of writing… it is thrilling and I am learning… I have joined a writer’s guild… and have run into some criticism of my work… but then again that is what a writer’s guild/group is about .. to help one improve their craft… I had attended for several months .. then I backed off… creativity is not a problem… many of these members have written a book(s) and their intellect and vocabulary is way up here and I am but a fledgling … I began to take their criticism personal… that is why I backed away. I looked at their comments and many were positive and I have made an effort to follow their advice. by all means I am still writing – and have decided to push through and edit my work… but… many times I find myself off track and off I go writing of something else… I am very weak at editing my own work… my genre is paranormal… I think I am evolving… do you have any advice

  6. Maryanne B says

    Yes, I do think everybody does, I wrote at least 3 books and I realized I didn’t finished them because I was afraid of what people would think,if someone would like it,if the book had a chance to be published if if if… My native language is Portuguese I write in Portuguese, although I can write in English as well i still improving and at the same time this is a fear of judgment as well,if my English is good enough if someone will read…Is annoying actually.

    I started blogs as well, people read them but I stoped thinking again if someone was judging me because of them… Now i’m writing a new book and I know it is quite awesome, publishing or not the important is not give up, I intend to publish my books, and plan to start a write/read blog soon,because after all write,read and languages are my passions.

    Good luck for you,can’t stop reading your blog

  7. Kristen says

    Hi Joanna – thanks for directing me to this post – so many good points! I’m lucky to have a great partner for support and at least one pseudonym at the moment. I agree, the shadow is important and a central part of being human. Good to know ritual murder is not a part of your day to day practice, though…
    😉

    Many thanks, again, for your thoughtful and really useful work!
    Kristen

Trackbacks

  1. […] Joanna Penn mentioned in a recent blog post, we need to ‘Understand that embracing the shadow side is psychologically healthy.’ Life is not all sweetness and light and there is but a thin veneer of civilization over our ancient animal genetics. Death and fear, violence and sex will always be part of our culture so as writers it’s important to embrace that and reflect it in our writing. You can read the whole post, On Writing And The Fear Of Judgment here. […]

  2. […] On Writing and the Fear of Judgment: I struggled for a long time with a fear of judgment, in writing and several other places in my life. It took me a long time to work through this one, and I agree wholeheartedly with Joanna’s advice here, especially the reminder that we are not our books! […]

  3. […] On Writing and the Fear of Judgment: I struggled for a long time with a fear of judgment, in writing and several other places in my life. It took me a long time to work through this one, and I agree wholeheartedly with Joanna’s advice here, especially the reminder that we are not our books! […]

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