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.

4 thoughts on “Who’s Your Worst Critic?

  1. I can be pretty brutal with myself after designing something that I don’t think is as good as the last graphic. Nothing is perfect, but the pressure to be atop of my game keeps me on edge at all times. Anymore advice?

    • Hi Dion,

      Gosh, there’s probably a different strategy for everyone, but if I had to share one that I think will make the biggest difference in the least amount of time, it’d be this:

      Move on to the next project as quickly as possible. Even if all you can do is brainstorm or search for new projects, the sooner you move on to the next challenge, the less time you have to agonize about past flaws. Let that energy you have to be on top of your game propel you forward to the next opportunity. Your future prospects are limitless, but you’ll never realize them if you dwell on past efforts. Keep making new efforts no matter what. It helps if you already have a backlog of creative projects to work on so that you simply don’t have the down time to beat yourself up too much.

      I also believe that disappointment is just a part of life. That’ll never go away. There’ll always be a sting when we get rejected or when we fail at something. But the less time we can spend being disappointed, and the sooner we get going again the better.

      I know that was a long reply, but I really feel where you’re coming from.

  2. I’m really guilty of being my worst critic (most times anyway). But I always try and just put my work out to the public at the point when I’m just restructuring sentences.
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    • Hi Jevon!

      I’ve heard other writers say they have a similar approach. I believe one said, “When you take out a comma, and then put it back, it’s time to submit.” Lol.

      Good for you on sharing your work.

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