If you put your words on the page and the book into the world, someone is going to judge you. And that can be a scary thought!
Fear of judgment is something that I've come up against a number of times in my writing career, particularly when I was writing Desecration. Watch the video below or here on YouTube.
What is fear of judgment?
It's that feeling of like, “I can't write this. I can't even think this. Why am I thinking this?I'm a nice girl. What will people think of me when I put this book into the world? What will my loved ones think of me? What will my partner think of me? My boyfriend, girlfriend, my mother, my mother-in-law? What will my friends think of me? And then what will people I've never met think of me?”
All of these things are fear of judgment, the fear of what others will think, and even what we will ourselves think.
Desecration was my fifth novel, but it was the first book where I really let my author voice come out on the page. It really changed my writing life because at this point I actually got over my fear of judgment.
Now it's still there in the background and of course, we all feel self-doubt. I don't think I'll ever stop worrying about what other people think about me, but the important thing is that I'm not going to let it stop me writing or publishing.
There are things inside us that we need to let out on the page.
Our most powerful writing can sometimes come from the subconscious, the things we press down in normal life. The things that we wouldn't necessarily say in polite conversation. Maybe things that our friends and our family don't even know about us.
How can you deal with the fear of judgment?
First of all, understand that the book is not you.
If someone doesn't like your book, it doesn't mean that they are judging you. Now, this can be very hard, but it does get better with the more books that you write. If you only have one book, then you will be very emotionally connected to it.
But if you write more books, then over time, that body of work becomes much more robust. When people attack it, then you're much stronger in yourself. So the first tip is to write more books.
And of course, if there's a topic that you know you want to write about but you're not quite brave enough yet, then maybe save that for another book, but make sure you get there eventually.
Find people who appreciate who you really are.
Now, I'm super-lucky. My husband's very understanding. For Crypt of Bone, I took him on a romantic (book research) trip to Paris and then we went to the Catacombs, where there are millions of bones and skulls.
Then we went to Prague on another romantic weekend and ended up in an ossuary with another load of bones and a mass grave. He understands that darker side of me, and I know I'm super-lucky to have someone who supports me so much. I know many people don't have that.
But what you can do is find a community online.
As J.F. Penn, my fiction self, I am into morbid curiosity, death culture, skeletons, graveyards, that type of thing. Online, that's not weird as there are lots of people who are into the same things.
Whereas I know my friends in real life, and certainly my family, don't really understand that slightly more macabre side of me. In fact, most of my friends and family have not read my books and I probably wouldn't want them to.
We get caught up in wanting the people that we love to love what we do in our art, but so often, they don't.
So, find friends online, join writers groups, join Facebook groups, find other people who love what you do and they will understand you. That will really help you because many of those people will also be afraid of judgment and will have other people in their lives judging them, too.
Learn about the shadow side and embrace it.
I studied psychology and Carl Jung's idea of the shadow is something that fascinates me. At some point, I will write a nonfiction book on the shadow side and how we can use it in our writing because it's so important.
The most psychologically healthy people I know are horror writers because they take the fear and the dark side of them and they put it on the page.
When we write down the things that scare us, they lose their power.
So this is why I think writing can be incredibly powerful and healthy for you. Get out some of the things that you might be judged for if you talked about it. But if you write about it, even if you fictionalize it, it can become the best way, a cathartic experience.
Use a pseudonym
Of course, your fear of judgment may be totally justified. Most erotica authors will write under a pseudonym for this reason. Many romance authors write under a pseudonym. They don't want the added hassle of being judged for what they're writing or they don't want people they know to find out what they're writing.
Using a pseudonym can be a really powerful way to still write what you want to write, but put it behind a veneer so that you can take a step back and it will protect you in that way.
You can't control other people's reactions to your work
Finally, I want to quote from Elizabeth Gilbert's fantastic book, Big Magic.
“The reaction to your art does not belong to you and that is the only sane way to create.”
We have to keep creating, we have to put our art out into the world. We can't control other people's reactions to it. We can only control what we put out there.
You don't want to die with your art still inside you.
So often, people get obsessed with grammatical mistakes and typos and things like that in writing whereas the bigger issues are inside of us and those are the things that can help us create more.
If you need any other help with the psychology of writing and the roller coaster of what being a creative is all about, then check out The Successful Author Mindset, available in e-book, print, audiobook, and workbook formats.