how the fear of being judged stopped me from writing

How the Fear of Being Judged Stopped Me from Writing

Molly McCowan Business Storytelling, The Art of Editing 17 Comments

If you’ve been following me since I founded Inkbot Editing back in 2010, you’ve probably noticed a slow waning of my blog posts. I used to write religiously, and you heard from me at least once or twice a month. I was writing about a wide range of topics: punctuationthe value of an editorhow my dog makes me a better editor…you name it.

The reason for the slow decline in my blogging over the past year or so is twofold.

The first reason is that I’ve been happily working away, managing a diverse client list and tons of exciting editing and copywriting projects.

The other reason is fear, pure and simple. It’s the fear of being judged, which you’ve also probably felt at some time in your life.

That’s why I wanted to write about it today. I wanted to share something with you that feels deeply personal (and vulnerable), in the hopes that it will spark a productive discussion and make you think about this topic in a different way.

Granted, if you’re not a professional editor, hopefully your writing won’t be put under the same microscope that mine is. And hey, I totally understand. That’s the name of the game! After all, who would hire an editor who makes tonz of grammatickal and spelling misteaks?

But one of my mottos is “even editors need editors.” To some, this may sound ridiculous, but we all reach that stage when we’ve spent so much time with a piece of writing that we just can’t see it anymore. Our brain starts to skim through it, which is exactly the opposite of the slow, deliberate process needed for copyediting.

And once our brains reach that tipping point of no longer seeing the little picture, typos and homophones sneak in and stand there proudly, just waiting to make us look bad.

In a perfect world, I let my blog posts sit for a couple of days to “stew.” I come back to them later with fresh eyes, and I proofread everything, find images, and post the new piece to my website.

But I’m not perfect, and I don’t always follow this process. Sometimes I want to push “publish” and get the post out there. I read it and reread it until my eyes hurt. Then I read it aloud. I have my computer read it aloud to me. Then, finally, I push “publish.” But that’s not the end of the paranoia: even after the post is published, I proceed to anxiously reread it at least two more times, just to triple check that I’ve caught everything.

Have you done this too?

This anxiety stems from fear: the fear that people will judge us negatively for a typo or missed word. Yes, I’m a highly trained, professional editor, but I still have a fear of being judged. I think we all face this in our lives, and especially in our careers. (Imposter syndrome is a thing, you guys!)

I’m generally a very confident person, but after receiving some harshly worded emails from editors last year (one wrote, “You call yourself an editor?” after finding a typo in an email I sent out), I got to the point where I was editing my sentences as I wrote them, which is like pouring molasses on the creative process. Eventually, I just stopped blogging.

I don’t know about you, but when I write creatively, I have to find my groove. I need to write whatever comes into my mind with no judgment. I can’t stop myself to read the sentence I just wrote; I have to say go until I reach the finish line. Then, and only then, do I go back and start to do developmental editing (big-picture work of structuring and reordering the post), and then copyediting (fixing grammar and punctuation issues, formatting headings, fixing typos, etc.).

I know this writing process works for me. I know I’m a strong editor and writer. But over the past year, I’ve let fear take the reins and put the brakes on my creative process. I’ve continued writing for clients, but writing for my own blog has been pushed to the back burner.

Feeling picked apart and jumped all over because you made a mistake leads to shame and embarrassment. And shame and embarrassment (or being made to feel like you’re not good enough) are the exact opposite feelings you need to stay creative.

As Brené Brown says, “If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” I know this firsthand, and that’s why I think it’s vital to talk about it openly.

I’m a big believer that editors should never get up on their high horses about being “better at English” than other people. Laughing at a typo with the understanding that it could happen to anyone, including yourself, is a lot different than pointing and laughing at someone and judging them as stupid.

I also believe that typos can happen to anyone, especially in today’s quick-fire world of text messages, tweets, Facebook posts, and rushed emails.

Sometimes my friends will text me and then correct their typo and say, “How embarrassing! You’re an editor.” This makes me sad. I tell them, and I mean it, that I don’t judge anyone for typos, poor spelling, or grammatical mistakes. My dad has always had terrible spelling, and he’s in metallurgical-engineering textbooks around the world for his contributions to that field. He’s one of the smartest people I know.

I have many dyslexic friends who have very insightful, valuable things to say and give to this world. I also have many friends for whom English is a second language. They tell me that they’re so afraid of making a mistake and being ridiculed that they hold their tongue and don’t share their ideas.

Judging people because they made a mistake you “would never” make isn’t right. Making people feel shamed and embarrassed for making a mistake while expressing themselves isn’t right.

Brené Brown also says, “If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle? Me too.”

Editors are people too. Typos happen to us too. We’re paranoid about them, and this paranoia stops us from writing and sharing and teaching as much as we can.

So, my friends, I’m making a promise to myself to stop letting fear impede my creative process, and I need you to help keep me accountable. I want to write at least one blog post per month for Inkbot Editing, starting with this one. So, if you don’t hear from me for a while, I want you to reach out to me on Twitter or Facebook, or send me an email.

I love helping fellow writers and editors, and I have plenty of helpful advice and tips and tricks to share with you. I also know that you have a lot to teach me! So, cheers to writing, and to accepting others for what they’re trying to say instead of how they say it.

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Have you experienced fear that has halted your creative process or made you reluctant to share your ideas? Tell me in the comments, and let the Inkbot Editing word-nerd community know how we can help and support your creative journey.

Molly McCowan
Molly McCowan is a professional writer and editor from Fort Collins, Colorado. As the Lead Word Nerd at Inkbot Editing, it's her job to make you look good.