How I got over the fear of being judged for what I write.

Because the pain of not writing was worse than the pain of worrying about being judged for what I wrote. For being who I am.

Because expressing myself and enjoying the satisfaction of a well-crafted sentence became my favorite thing. The only thing that mattered.

Because I realized I would always be judged, and what mattered was what I thought of me, not what someone else thought of me. The reaction to my published writing is always about the reader. It’s not about me.

After hitting the first “publish” button online, I cringed. Held my breath. Wanted to hide under my desk.

I’d written about some pretty explicit topics—sexuality, mental health, suicide. And these things meant a lot to me. I felt like I’d flayed off my skin and tendons and showed people my bones. Even deeper.

I felt exposed.

When my mom told me she’d read my book, I couldn’t write for a month, I was so embarrassed.

But as time went on, I learned a few things.

I couldn’t control anyone’s reaction to my writing. Ever.

Some people connected with what I said on such an atomic level that they went out of their way to message me about what they’d read.

Two people have my books tattooed on their skin.

One person told she prevented a suicide because of my book.

Those things amaze me.

But others hate my writing. One star. Scathing reviews.

People at my work told me to change my name to a pen name and to change my covers so they weren’t so explicit.

I was an embarrassment.

I had the choice: did I focus on the random internet critics and the people who didn’t understand me, or did I focus on the satisfaction of writing and the people who “got it”?

I dug down deep. Why was I writing?

Because I had something to say, and it mattered to me. And because I hoped for a connection with others who wanted to read my work.

Eight books later, do I still worry about how people are going to judge me when I do things like (my current book) write the love story of two men?

Yes.

And no.

The no is much stronger than the yes, because the story is beautiful, well-written, and hopefully gives comfort to those who read it and have been in the same emotional situation as the characters.

Are some people not going to like it?

Yeah.

Oh well.

So how did I get past the fear?

I just did it. I wrote. I published. I avoided reading bad things about me online. I focused on improving my writing. Actively seeking feedback from people who knew more than me and cared enough to help me improve. On challenging myself to write harder and harder stories. On taking pride that while many people talk about writing a book, most never do it.

I read articles and memes and blog posts about what it means to write and found that my feelings of insecurity are universal.

And my fallback mental position was given to me by a friend: when someone criticizes your writing think, oh, how did you do it in your book? THAT’S RIGHT YOU DON’T HAVE ONE. And then I took comfort in having taken the step to actually show someone something I wrote.

Taking the step to publish anything is brave. I feel nervous typing this answer using my thumbs on my phone (and no proofreader), and I’ll feel braver when I hit “submit.” But basically, unless you are actively seeking feedback from an editor or critique partner (essential, essential), anyone else’s opinion or judgment of you never matters. The only thing that matters is what YOU think of you.

I came to the conclusion that down to my marrow, I am a writer. I’m not gonna let anyone stop me. I hope you come to that conclusion too.