On Conquering The Fear Of Criticism and Judgement



check out the book trailer to Joanna Penn’s new thriller PENTECOST

Very pleased to present Tribal Writer’s first (…drum roll please…okay, enough with the drums) guest post. And how fitting it should be by Joanna Penn, whose site www.thecreativepenn.com is absolutely indispensable for anyone trying to figure out how the *#&$^ to be a viable writer in these times that are a-changin’, and who has been a great source of information and inspiration to yours truly. Joanna, as the kids like to say, “gets it”.

Confession: this post SHOULD have gone up on Feb 7 to coincide with the launch of Joanna’s new thriller of a novel, PENTECOST. Due to technical problems, this did not happen (technical problems being: I was recovering from food poisoning and coming back from a trip to the Congo on various planes* with no Wi-Fi). Sincere apologies to Joanna, and I’m psyched to post this regardless.

* how many planes does it take to get to Congo (and then back again)? Too damn many…

And now, I will shut up, and give you Joanna’s post about the fear of criticism and judgement.


When we write, aspects of our lives surface in scenes, swirling in language, glimpsed in the turn of a character’s head. In fiction, we bring ourselves to the page and that makes our writing stronger but it means the line can blur between the book and the fragile author.

There are two fears that can prevent us from publishing our work, or leave us sleepless at night, afraid of checking email or book review sites. The fear of criticism is the fear of being hurt by comments saying our work is bad, the plot is weak, the writing is terrible. For a new writer, it feels like a direct attack.

The fear of judgement is perhaps less common, and relates to when your writing doesn’t seem to fit the aspects of your public character. Maybe you are a church-going Christian and you’re writing dark urban fantasy. Maybe you’re a soccer-Mom and you’re writing erotica. When I started writing a novel, my friends and family thought it would be an intelligent literary fiction piece, full of long words and deep thinking. I actually wrote a fast paced action/adventure thriller with violent death, explosions and religious mythology. Yes, I’m afraid of being judged!

If you feel the same way, here are five ways you can conquer these fears, or at least learn to cope with them.

Be brave.

You are one in a long line of writers who felt these fears. Don’t be afraid. It’s part of the journey. We are all complex creatures with facets that run beneath our public personas. As writers, we are charged with honesty, with writing what others would keep silent. So people will judge us and criticize. This is inevitable. But in everyday life, we’re judged by what we look like, how we sound, how we dress, what school we went to, how we raise our children. We have learned to live with that criticism and judgement, so we must be brave and live with whatever comes in the wake of publication.

Understand the book is not you.

Some people say that using a pen name is a great way to separate you as a person from the book itself. You can also use a different company name for publication. Even if you don’t want to do this, you need to learn to separate the book from you as a person, or even as an author. The book itself doesn’t define you. If people hate the book, they’re not saying you’re a bad person, a shoddy parent or a fickle friend. Different people like different stories, that is the way of things. Remember, the book is not you.

Celebrate positive feedback.

For some reason we pay more attention to nasty, hurtful comments than we do to praise. One person who gives us a 1 star rating on Amazon is somehow more important than the 15 positive reviews others have left. Authors are fragile, especially when it comes to the first book. So as you write, as you build your platform, remember to keep your fan-mail in whatever form it comes. The email from someone who loved your blog post, the tweet that congratulated you on the book, the Facebook comment on your fantastic book cover. Forward all of this to a special email account, keep it in a Fan-Mail folder, or print and stick it in your diary. Dig out these positive messages when you are depressed and celebrate how far you’ve come.

Use your energy cycles for positivity.

If you read a negative review or a critical comment when you are already down, you will spiral even further into despair. I know that I become depressed when I’m over tired so it’s a bad idea for me to do anything useful late at night. In the mornings, I’m chirpy and happy and able to brush off negativity so that’s when I read reviews, comments or email that may contain niggly remarks. If comments stick in your head when you go to bed, try writing them down in a diary so you can clear your mind. There’s no point dwelling on the bad stuff. See above for celebration of the positive!

Write another book.

I asked another author about the fear of judgement, about how people can mistakenly assume the book is based on the author’s life somehow. He just told me to write more books. As you write more, you grow a thicker skin and the ability to deal with the fear. But also, as there are more books, your audience grows and you get more positive feedback. Readers don’t assume all the books are based on your life somehow so they don’t judge you as much. With only one book, it’s easier for people to judge you.

So that’s the answer, write another book and you’ll conquer those fears. In the meantime, know that we’re in it together as writers on the journey, and you’re not alone.

Joanna Penn is the author of Pentecost, a thriller, out now on Amazon.com. 
Joanna is also a blogger at TheCreativePenn.com : Adventures in Writing, Publishing and Book Marketing. Connect on Twitter @thecreativepenn

Feb 9, 2011

6 comments · Add Yours

Excellent advice on how to let criticism, others’ judgments, and overall insecurity roll off our backs, not unlike ducks! :-). I always think of these Rick Nelson lyrics: “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.” Good luck with PENTECOST, Joanna!


Great advice. I particularly like the recommendation to celebrate the positive. It’s so easy to blip over those and dwell on setbacks, but every victory should be embraced, even modest ones.


Thanks for having me Justine. You must tell us about the Congo – that would have been an adventure!
@Dorian – I wrote this post in anticipation of how I would feel so now it’s about taking my own advice!
@Patrick – yes, time to check out the positive Amazon reviews and print those celebration emails!


Great advice. That’s exactly what I’m doing. After many rejection to my first book, I picked myself up and started writing another book.


Write another book. That’s always what it comes down to, isn’t it? You’ve submitted your first book: write another book. Your book isn’t selling: write another book. You’re afraid of being judged: write another book. Consistency is wonderful!

Best of luck with Pentecost!


This is an on going issue for all artists and perhaps writers in particular. My last post was on this topic too, a slightly different take as it’s directed towards those who’re submitting their work to others for feedback before publishing. Once it’s out there, it’s different.



  1. Criticism can really effect our lives in so many ways

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