Who’s Your Worst Critic?


The gem I take from Joyce Carol Oates today is that writers and artists are their own worst critics.

To put it more bluntly, she says self-criticism is about as good an idea as self-administered brain surgery.

She gives many examples of writers who scorned their most “successful” works and esteemed their least “successful” works. What we like in our own writing, others might dislike. What we hate, others might love.

The major blinder for many writers and artists is perfectionism. A few flaws often obscure for us the many virtues of our work.

A piece of writing might be good enough for publication and sales, and could even change a reader’s life, but it might not be good enough for us.

The down side of perfectionism is that it can be paralyzing. It can hinder you from getting anything done or published or sold. On top of that it can drive you into serious depression because your expectations are never met and you always feel inadequate.

There’s a clear distinction between always wanting to do your best and being a perfectionist.

Work your hardest, but submit the work before those deadlines pass.

Don’t slave over one piece at the expense of all those other great ideas you have, which might work out better.

To blend mostly JCO with a little bit of Auden, art and writing are “far too various to contemplate.” They are “elusive matters that will reside in the [guts] of others to judge.”

Just as you can’t hide away in a cave until you are perfect, you must share your writing when you’ve done everything you know to do.