What You Need To Know As An Anxious Creator

I've run into a lot of people who fret over whether their work is good enough in one way or another, and I've found that many of them get caught up in a lot of fears and worries that prevent them from completing or publishing their work. So I've written this to hopefully help put people's minds at ease about things.

Last updated: February 12, 2022.

Table of Contents

You'll never be able to please everyone, and that's fine.

Everyone has different tastes and perspectives, so trying to please everyone is literally impossible. No matter what you write, no matter how well you write it, there's at least one person out there who would think it was the worst thing they'd ever read. No single piece of media can be for everyone, and every work that makes it into the public eye will have at least one person who absolutely hates it.

Thing is, a sci-fi romp probably isn't going to attract the type of people who really prefer high fantasy. A crime thriller set in the real world probably won't have a hugh appeal appeal to people who prefer superheroes. Some people might find high-stakes action scenes exciting and exhilarating, while others might find them stressful. Your work simply can't appeal to everyone, because different people have wildly different tastes.

Not every story has to be a for a big audience. Your work can be for yourself and your friends, or even just for yourself. You can intentionally try and develop your skills in your personal projects, or you can just write whatever you feel like. It doesn't matter. What matters is that you're doing something you want to do, that brings you joy and fulfillment.

Accepting that you can't please everyone also means accepting that it's okay to just piss some people off. Offending people is not in and of itself morally wrong. If somebody gets upset because two fellas share a kiss or something... well, that's their problem, and you're entitled to laugh at them. Heck, if anything, angering people who have committed themselves to hatred and intolerance should be considered a win! So seriously, give yourself permission to make some people really, really unhappy, and go forth.

You shouldn't take any single person's writing advice as gospel.

And yes, that includes mine. I've always tried my best, but I've definitely made some mistakes along the way, and I'll probably continue to make mistakes here and there. Seriously, don't follow everything that I or anyone else says (or what you think we said) as some kind of holy gospel. Apply your own critical thinking skills, and feel free to look into and compare multiple points of view.

Everyone is writing from their own perspective and experience, and even when they're trying their best to be objective and open-minded they are still human beings with human limitations. Literally no one is perfect. The best you can do is try to collect some opinions and decide for yourself whether they serve you, your values, and your goals. If you're unsure, maybe talk about it with your friends or other people you feel are qualified to weigh in. But ultimately, you have to decide for yourself. And I know the idea of getting it wrong is scary, but - we're all human, and we all mess up sometimes. What's important is that we just keep trying, and forgive ourselves when we inevitably mess things up.

I've seen many people try to follow someone's else's advice (or at least, follow what they thought this person's advice was) to their own detriment.

This includes people who follow advice that basically boils down to "write just like this famous guy." There's nothing wrong with taking inspiration from writers you like, but just because a given work was popular doesn't mean that it's objectively superior, and if you try too hard to imitate someone else you will inevitably stifle your own voice and personality. You might not have the skill and knowledge to write like someone else does, either, and you'll end up failing in trying to write like them when you could be succeeding in writing like you.

It also includes people who follow simplistic "do this"/"don't do this" types of advice without ever considering whether there might be any exceptions, or whether it might be oversimplifying something that's actually complicated or comes down to personal taste. For example, "never use said" suggests that there is something inherently wrong with the word "said," rather than explaining that if you constantly rely on "said" you might overlook more descriptive words. But realistically, there's nothing actually wrong with said - it's no worse than "uttered," for example. And alternatives like "articulated" can just sound awkward.

And then of course, in cases where certain character traits became strongly linked with obnoxious OCs, those traits were themselves often demonized regardless of any larger context they were used in, and many writers avoided these traits even when it wasn't strictly necessary, and could have even made for an interesting narrative. This of course is one of many reasons why it's important to ask critical questions like why something is a problem, and in what context is it a problem.

There are no specific choices that will guarantee success, and there are no specific choices that will guarantee failure, either. For good or bad, your creation will be greater than the sum of its parts.

Not all writing advice and criticism applies to you and your work.

Someone might write a scathing piece of criticism on certain tropes because the way they've seen them used has left a bad taste in their mouths. For example, Bonnie might write a scathing rant about how terrible elves are after seeing numerous works where elves are portrayed as nigh-angelic beings who can do no wrong and basically only exist to prove the author right. If Bonnie doesn't specify why she feels elves are so terrible, those who come across her rant might come away thinking that elves are inherently bad. If you see someone call something bad without providing giving any explanation as to why, then you should assume there is missing context, not that the thing is inherently bad. This context might be missing because the author assumes their audience is familiar with it already, or because they aren't aware of the bigger picture themselves, or because they were just so worked up that mentioning slipped their minds.

Some advice is targeted more toward big creators with actual power and influence than indie creators, not small creators who lack the time and means to do these things. If somebody's advice is literally impossible for you to follow, then you're probably not part of its intended audience.

Advice that is written in a particularly harsh or angry tone is often written with people who have been extremely unreceptive and resistant to correction in mind. If you're anxious that you might be one of those people, you're probably not. People also write in harsh and angry tones when they've seen or experienced something so many times that it's rubbed their nerves raw. Try to understand that it's coming from a place of deep frustration, and likely doesn't have anything to do with you personally.

Sometimes, the advice just doesn't apply because the writer hasn't considered your particular case. For example, a lot of fantasy writing advice is written under the assumption that you're going to want to engage in heavy worldbuilding like Tolkien or his imitators, while you might be planning to take a more Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland kind of approach. In a case like this, you need to be able to acknowledge that this advice doesn't really apply to you, and just leave it if it doesn't help you.

It's okay if your work isn't perfect.

Many of us think that our work needs to meet or exceed some "great" piece of media to be worth anything or to be liked. We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking our creations need to be flawless or else they're no good at all. Of course, this kind of thinking presupposes that all "great" or famous works of media are perfect. But they really aren't. Everything is flawed in some way, or at least contains things that could potentially be considered flaws.

Let's look at The Lord of the Rings, for example. The story is interspersed with scads of of information that, while perhaps mildly interesting, doesn't really affect the plot - for example, when the party gets to Rivendell in the first book we're updated on what Arwen's brothers are up to - and said brothers never contribute anything to the plot. Many people would agree that this kind of thing really should have been edited out. This isn't to say that Tolkien's writing was objectively bad in this regard, but it does mean that we can't say that everything he did was objectively good, either.

The prose of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is pretty simple, and none of the characters are particularly complex. But to call this a serious problem when the story is focused on shenanigans and humor would be pretty silly. (I mean - come on, do we really need luscious descriptions of Ford Prefect's face while the Vogons are reading their poetry?)

Some people stress over being unable to draw "realistic" characters all the time. However, realism isn't always necessary. The popular webcomic XKDC is drawn with stick figures. Adventure Time is a beloved cartoon with a simplistic, noodly art style. Having a specific art style is less important than 1. having an art style that suits your project, and 2. being able to draw it consistently. And even then, perfection isn't necessary. You'll often find that many popular comic strips and webcomics had some pretty rough art early on.

Once again, a lot of what your work should be like comes down to what works for your target audience. Not everyone is some super-picky snob, and it's perfectly valid to create something for a small circle of friends, or just for yourself. It also helps to write in a way that plays to your own strengths. When somebody says that any given work is perfect, what this actually means is that it had enough positives for them that they were able to forgive or just didn't notice its flaws. So while it's important to try and work on skills you aren't good at, it's also important to identify your strengths so you can lean into them.

There are very few absolutes.

There are a few absolutes in writing, like "write in a way your target audience can sufficiently comprehend" and "put some thought into what you're doing." But very, very few choices are absolutely good or absolutely bad.

For one thing, context matters. Like, no, it's not actually wrong to ship your OC with a canon character, but it does come off as pretty small-minded and arrogant if you act like your OC is objectively the best possible match in the world for the canon character, especially if you treat any other potential love interest as some kind of petty, jealous monster. A heroic protagonist should generally try to make good choices, but we have to acknowledge the reality that perfect choices aren't always available and sometimes it really is a matter of choosing the lesser evil and hoping a better choice presents itself in the future.

It can also be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the most extreme critics must have the most correct opinions, or that the harshest and most strict interpretations of any kind of criticism must be the most morally pure and or functionally effective. But in reality, extreme sentiment mostly just tells you that someone is very upset, not whether they're objectively correct. And prioritizing the harshest, strictest interpretations is fundamentalist thinking, which as we know from countless real life cases, does not go particularly well in the end.

A piece of work can be seen as both problematic or progressive depending on how people look at it, and both interpretations can simultaneously be right. It's also just a fact of life that ideological purity is simply impossible (as Ada Palmer's article Hopepunk, Optimism, Purity, and Futures of Hard Work explores a bit), and aiming for the impossible standard of moral perfectionism actually stops us from doing genuine good.

If you constantly struggle with worrying whether your work is problematic, or whether your protagonists are "good" enough, I suggest listening to No One Is Alone a few times, and doing some research to see if you might be struggling with moral scrupulosity OCD.

I know a lot of people out there would really like to have clear, easy-to-follow lists of Dos and Do Nots, but the reality is that when it comes to the really big and weighty issues, it's just not that easy. These issues are far too complicated to boil down into simple binaries. Of course you can and should consult with other people to get their opinions, but in the end you have to decide for yourself what you're going to do, and accept that some people might not be pleased with your final decision.

It's also important to remember that we live in tense, uncertain times that have left made a lot of people extremely wary over potentially harmful elements. Sometimes they're onto something. Sometimes they've registered a false positive. And we can't stop people from doing the latter, because we can't control other people's perceptions.

One thing I can also say, I have noticed that those who try to divide everything into strict binaries of "good" and "bad" are among the most likely to try and deny, minimize, and justify their own flaws and mistakes. They can't admit that they're imperfect, because that would mean condemning themselves as flawed, and therefore worthless and irredeemable. And in their denial, they continue to harm others and fail to grow as people.

To quote Maya Angelou, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." Because that is literally all you can do. In the meantime, give yourself permission to make mistakes, to be ambiguous and controversial, and to do your best with the limited information you have. Try to learn from your mistakes, but also learn to stop judging your decisions by their outcomes.

You are your own worst critic.

Generally speaking, you will be familiar with the details of your own work on a level that almost no one else will ever be. Because of this, little things will stick out to you that almost no one else will notice because they're too busy engaging with the broader picture. And if they do occasionally notice, they might not care all that much because the rest of the work is so enjoyable that they can forgive these little things.

Elisa Donze also made a great observation about why people often hate their own art - it will always look like their own art, rather than the art of someone else they feel is "better" than them. Too many fall into a trap of thinking their art isn't "good enough" because it's not exactly like someone else's.

I've seen a lot of people basically try to pre-emptively apologize for specific flaws in their work, and for me it's never not made things awkward, because it always diminishes from my ability to engage with the thing on my own terms and come to my own conclusions about it. When you ask your audience not to mind aspects you perceive as flaws, you are implicitly telling them that they should mind because you are highlighting them as objective flaws that diminish from your work.

Of course, people will occasionally point out flaws in your stuff, and sometimes they will be flaws that you noticed. Nonetheless, you still don't need to give them any help because what you saw as a major problem might only be a minor issue to them.

In closing

You can't appeal to everyone, and you shouldn't even try for many, many reasons. You should absolutely try and develop your skills, sure. But you also need to recognize that you have your own unique strengths and needs, and always trying to do what someone else does or says won't always be in your best interests. Even well-meaning people can give counterproductive advice, and if you find that trying to follow someone's advice isn't actually helping you, then you should stop following it and try something else. Get some different opinions, compare them against each other, and decide for yourself which approach might best help you do you. Or if you don't know which approach would be the best for you, just try them all out and see what fits.

If you still find yourself struggling with doubts and uncertainties, then I suggest getting in touch with a mental health professional; or if that's not feasible right now, look for free resources. (I'll be including some links below for you to check out.) Having struggled with mental health issues myself, I can attest to just how much they can make small issues seem immensely huge.

I hope you found this article helpful. If you liked it, please share it with your friends and on your social media, and please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a great day!

Onsite Pages You Might Like

Dealing With Criticism & Negative Reviews
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How To Recognize A Moral Abuser

External Resources

Black-and-White Thinking: Cognitive Distortion #1
How to Stop the SHAME Spiral "Am I a Bad Person?"- Shame vs. Guilt
How to Stop Struggling With Anxiety and Intense Emotions 5/30 How to Process Emotions
How to Stop Beating Yourself Up 29/30 Self-Compassion
Catastrophizing: How to Stop Making Yourself Depressed and Anxious: Cognitive Distortion Skill #6

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