How to Silence the Haters in Your Head as You Write

The Internet is full of trolls. Stop using your imagination to create more.

Paul Ryburn, M.Sc.
Nov 23, 2020 · 7 min read
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Image for post
Photo by Yasin Yusuf on Unsplash

Fear is born in uncertainty and nourished by pessimism. — Lois Wyse

One of the scariest feelings in the universe is fear of the unknown. If an outcome is certain, we don’t tend to sweat it that much, even if we know it will be bad. However, when an outcome is unknown, we imagine and assume the worst of the worst of the worst — and since we create our own reality, we send ourselves spiraling down a negative path.

To a writer, what’s worse than an article that is poorly received by your audience? It’s easy to start inventing all kinds of negative reactions people could have — negative comments, negative book reviews, and the like. I’m fairly certain that some of the potentially great pieces of literature have never seen pen put to paper because the author imagined their work would be received badly.

In this story, I will look at how a negative response in real life led to me inventing more haters in my head. This spiral of negativity nearly led me to not publish what became one of my most successful stories. I’ll give you some thought processes I used to overcome the doubt. You can use them too to put your best work out there.

Origins of self-doubt

When I was a new writer on this platform, I turned to the things I knew best for story ideas. I live in a downtown area of a fairly large city, and I have seen how the needs of the homeless go largely unserved. Therefore, two of my first 10 articles were lists of easy things you can do to make the lives better for those experiencing homelessness.

Because I was a new writer, my stories didn’t receive a whole lot of views and comments. Those I did get generally thanked me for the information. However, there was one comment that stung.

One person replied that I knew absolutely nothing about helping the homeless, and that my offers of a dry pair of socks or a fresh piece of fruit were useless token gestures. If I really cared about the homeless, she raged, I’d be out there in the midst of movements to defund the police and legalize all drugs.

I felt attacked.

For a long time after that stinging comment, I avoided writing anything even remotely controversial. Self-doubt had crept in.

man by lake, expression of doubt
man by lake, expression of doubt
Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels

Inventing more self-doubt

One of the topics I write about is narcissism. I like to say that I have an unwanted honorary Ph.D. in the field of Narcissistic Studies. As such, I spend a fair amount of time reading about that topic in spaces on Quora.

One day I came across an answer to a question about White Knight narcissists, by the psychologist who invented the term. White Knight narcissists do a lot of good serving their community, but the attention and adoration they feel they deserve in return is the source of their narcissistic supply.

“I’ve never seen White Knight narcissism written about on Medium,” I thought. “And I know people who fit perfectly with the description given by its inventor, so I have a reputable source to cite as well as a unique viewpoint of my own. This is a perfect topic!”

But then self-doubt crept in. I started thinking of all the potential readers who would disagree with my post and rage on me in the comments.

First of all, I don’t have a degree in psychology. What if people jumped into the comments and told me I’m not qualified to write about the topic? I had seen it happen with other people’s articles on narcissism, even though I had gained considerable insight and value from what the authors wrote.

Second, there’s a school of thought that says, we should love the narcissists for their flaws, and not speak badly of them. Well, we should also love the victims. Those of us who have experience can save potential victims years of confusion and frustration. Still, though, it was an argument I didn’t care to have in the comments section of a post.

Third, I worried narcissists themselves would get on the comments and rage at me, bash me, even threaten me. By exposing who they are and how they act, I represent a threat to their way of life.

Fourth and finally, I come from the southern U.S. where every discussion seems to turn into a matter of race. Would someone claim I am using a racist term by writing about “White Knight” narcissism (as compared to the classic “Dark Knight” type of narcissist)? I was just using the term coined by the expert, and I certainly never intended it to be racist, but I felt I had to be worried someone would interpret it that way.

How to overcome your self-doubt as a writer

Below are three strategies I used to overcome my fear of criticism. I went on to publish my article on White Knight narcissism, which has become one of my three most successful articles this month.

Haters, for the most part, are people who are going through life with an ax to grind. They’re going to spew their venom on someone. In this case, it just happened to be your post that supplied the necessary trigger they were seeking. If it hadn’t been you, they would have raged on someone else who unknowingly fueled their fire.

Look. If someone’s exposure to who you are is limited to a 5-minute article they read on a website, they don’t know you. Rather, you symbolize whatever perceived injustice gets them up on their soapbox.

When someone has a vast overreaction to what you have to say, they’re not telling you something about yourself — they’re telling you something about themselves. Specifically, they’re telling you that they don’t deserve even another second of your time, so close their comment without responding, take a moment to cleanse your energy if you feel the need, and move on.

If everybody likes you, you are doing it wrong. — Ben Michaels

What’s that? You don’t have a writing coach? Yeah, me neither. At least not one I can see.

What I’ve learned to do, and what I would advise you to try as well when you encounter resistance when writing, is to imagine your best future writing self 6 to 12 months from now. Imagine the writer who has many published stories and successes under their belt. What would that version of you tell you to do?

Do you really think that future self would tell you, “Naaah, don’t write that, there might be one person out there somewhere who would disagree with what you have to say. You wouldn’t want to offend them.” Of course not! So step into that best future self.

Credit where credit is due: I got the idea to check in with my future writing self from If You Ask Yourself This Question Every Single Day, You’ll Be Ahead of 99% by Sinem Gunel. It’s most definitely worth 4 minutes of your time if you need help getting unstuck.

Imagine that you have people out there who visit your profile page every day. They’ve come to see if you’ve posted anything new today, because they’re eager to read anything that you, one of their favorite writers, has to say.

What? You don’t have readers like that? Can you prove it?

Several times on this and other platforms, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover I did have those kinds of fans, and didn’t know it.

So why not write for them?

I’ll let you in on a little secret: If you write for those fans, even if you don’t currently have them, you soon will. Your enthusiasm will be contagious and people will want to read more from you. Doesn’t that sound like a better strategy than writing for trolls and haters?

peaceful sunset with purple hue
peaceful sunset with purple hue
Photo by David Peterson from Pexels

In summary

Writers, like any other kind of human, are subject to bouts of self-doubt and fear of criticism. Not only is it hard to get unwarranted criticism out of your head, but it’s also easy to imagine future unwarranted criticism that can make you question whether you should publish some of your best work. Uncertainty presents the ego-driven mind an opportunity to fill in the blanks with things that could go wrong.

There are strategies, however, to silence the mind. If you worry about unwarranted criticism, realize the critics see you as a symbol and that they are commenting on themselves far more than they are you.

Learn to reach out to your best future self as a writer, to connect with that best version of yourself, and to draw on their wisdom for guidance.

Finally, imagine that you’re writing for your most dedicated fans, even if you think you don’t have any — you may be wrong, and if you don’t currently have such fans, you will soon if you keep expressing your best self.

Thanks for reading! I have an email list you can join if you want to be notified of my future writing. By the way, if you want to read my completed piece on White Knight narcissism, here it is:

Blank Page

Think. Draft. Publish.

Paul Ryburn, M.Sc.

Written by

I write about writing, ideas, creativity, intuition, spirituality, life lessons. Ex-college teacher Twitter: @paulryburn

Blank Page

Blank Page is home to stories that help creatives get smarter at writing.

Paul Ryburn, M.Sc.

Written by

I write about writing, ideas, creativity, intuition, spirituality, life lessons. Ex-college teacher Twitter: @paulryburn

Blank Page

Blank Page is home to stories that help creatives get smarter at writing.

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