How to write without worrying what other people think.
Lots of people tell me they want to share their stories, opinions, ideas and writing.
But they are worried about how other people will react.
In some cases they have experienced “pushback” or rejection.
In some cases they’ve kept quiet because they’re afraid of the reactions of others. There’s fear of criticism, judgment, or haters. And there’s fear of real life consequences: gossip at work; maybe even risk of being fired or outcast, or worse.
Maybe you can relate.
Here are my recommendations on how to dealing with negative reactions -- whether they’re real, perceived or anticipated -- so you can write and publish without worrying about what other people think.
First, a real-life story about holding back and the consequences at work.
Once upon a time in a previous life at a corporate/agency job, I was a lot less vulnerable and honest than I am with you here on this blog.
I used to go to work and pretend I was 100% solid unflappable has-it-all-together businesswoman.
Then one day I received a review where anonymously every single employee said they wanted to see more of the ‘real me’. They used different words of course, but basically they were all saying the same thing. They could tell I was posturing and wanted to know my humanness, my soft side. It was really frustrating at the time: I was trying so hard to be a good leader, colleague and employee!
But with some reflection, I realized they were right.
It was a great wake-up call.
Fast forward a few years later. This is where we speed through all the deep personal self-growth type work I did (which was a rocky road with a few falling down flat-on-my-face moments, believe me).
But the outcome included much more authenticity, the courage to be myself, and the guts to own and share my story, my truth, no matter what.
For me, much of that meant being honest about my heart condition; something I had kept secret from most people for years.
I took the stage and spoke publicly about my heart to a packed house – and then, of course, there was You Tube. I had just started a new job at the time and I wondered what my boss would think about it. It felt weird and vulnerable.
But I decided that I was going to show up in my life and work as me.
Today, several years later, my story is part of my profession and my personal life. I don’t have to hide this story from colleagues and clients. It actually helps me get business.
In fact, it is better than any resume.
You can do the same.
Your story can be a powerful, authentic representation of you. It can be an asset, not a liability.
That said, there can be some risks and frustrations associated with sharing your story publicly, so let’s deal with those.
Worry #1. Wanting praise & fearing criticism
Before and during publishing, try to unhook from both praise and criticism. This is a concept that Tara Mohr writes about.
It’s pretty important as a writer -- even more so if you’re going to bare your soul and write about stuff that is close to your heart.
It’s almost laughable that writers (usually sensitive, thoughtful types) are told to have a “thick skin” if they are going to publish. If we had a thick skin we probably wouldn’t have such good stories to write about!
That said, you will have to practice letting go of other people’s responses to your writing.
And not just the bad stuff.
The feedback, the acknowledgement, the praise. None of these things are valuable motivators for a writer.
If you write to get praise you’re not only going to stifle your writing, you’ll also miss the opportunity to give yourself the freedom to truly speak your mind and share your authentic story.
Be prepared for both some praise and some criticism, but be prepared for the most common response of all: silence.
Getting people to pay attention to writing (on the internet or elsewhere) is a challenge! If someone reads your stuff and gets worked up about it, congratulations. You have succeeded in getting some attention, and that’s not an easy feat.
Worry #2 What do I do with negative feedback?
There’s a tendency to throw around statements like “don’t listen to the haters” but I’d like to caution this response.
You probably should list to the haters, at least a little bit.
Review negative feedback for the following:
- What does it tell you about the audience? Feedback tells you something about the person giving that feedback. Other people’s reactions can teach you about whether or not you’re sharing your work with the right audience. Maybe there’s an opportunity to change something (style, medium, etc.) in order to connect better with the audience you want.
- Is there something to learn from this? Sometimes negative feedback is just garbage, but sometimes it’s not. If someone challenges you to see the message from a different perspective, give it some thought. You don’t have to agree. But it’s also okay to change your mind.
- Is it garbage? Like I said, sometimes the negative feedback is useful and sometimes it’s trash. You have something good to share with the world. Don’t waste your time on trolls.
Your bottom line: concentrate on authenticity.
If you write with purpose and believe in what you’re saying, criticism hurts less. It just doesn’t mean much because your truth is, well, truth. People can like it or dislike it, but when you speak from the heart, their reaction is besides the point.
Worry #3 What if writing will put me at risk?
It is up to you to decide how and what you say, and where you say it.
If sharing your story is actually unsafe for you right now – you are at risk of violence, dangerous discrimination or losing your job for example – then by all means protect yourself.
You bear no responsibility to others to disclose your secrets. You don’t have to reveal everything about yourself in order to be “authentic”. You don’t have to bare all.
You do have a responsibility to keep yourself safe, both mentally and physically.
(By the way, you also have a responsibility to others. Will your work help or hurt other people? Make these considerations before you write. It’s good to be bold and challenging, but be sure your conscious is on your side first.)
That said, there is a difference between challenging – ie. something that feels unsafe because it is a bit uncomfortable or new territory for you -- and downright dangerous.
I like to follow Kaila Prins’ words on this. (It’s something I referenced in this article about sharing stories related to positive HIV status.) When it comes to recovery efforts, Kaila encourages clients to get “uncomfortable but not unsafe.”
Uncomfortable is a good thing. If writing openly and honestly feels scary but exciting; if it feels like something you are being called to do and yet your inner critic or bully warns you not to – these are signs that sharing your story is a good idea.
If you see legitimate risks attached to speaking up, then you might seek out counsel from a trusted advisor (such as a therapist or mentor) who can help you find a healthy course of action.
Worry #4 Does my story even matter?
It is your right to express yourself.
Your opinions, thoughts, ideas, creativity and personal perspective matter. The world only benefits from having more honest and true voices speaking up.
Sharing our true stories doesn’t just help us. It helps us help others.
If you're worried about the value of your story, consider how it might be used to help others. For example,
- Could you demonstrate leadership through your honesty, vulnerability and courage?
- - Could you inspire others to be more true to themselves?
Could you make others feel good, have a laugh, enjoy your unique view of things?
There are lots of ways your story can help others. But the only way to do that, is to take the risk first.
Find your story inside. Write it. Speak it. Share it with those who need it.