How to stop being judgy

Reading time: Just over 3 minutes

If you love editing but hate writing, you may simply be too judgmental for your own good. Here’s how to stop being judgy….   

Some people call me opinionated. Others, judgy. Others, determined.

If you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs typology, I am an INTJ with the J representing “judging.”

Two-thirds of my triplets are the same way, as are all four of my siblings (it’s the “Grant gene” we say in reference to our last name, as we roll our eyes and congratulate ourselves for our own self-knowledge).

My kind husband doesn’t have a judgy bone in his body but believes that my strong opinions are partly why he married me, because, you know, opposites attract…

But here’s the thing about being judgy. It makes you a great editor. And a lousy writer.

I heard a podcast last week presenting the concept that we should shift judgement to curiosity. (Sorry! As I listen to so many podcasts each week, I’ve been unable to remember where I heard it.) The podcast didn’t focus on writing, but I made the connection immediately.

Judgment is like a muscle. The more you use it, the better you get at using it and the more it starts to seem like an all-purpose Swiss Army Knife — something you can use in just about any situation. It’ll open beer. Help you tighten screws. Remove slivers from your hands. But the problem with Swiss Army Knives is that they’re best in a pinch. If you have to tighten a lot of screws, for example, aren’t you going to be better off with a power screwdriver?

For writers, it’s important to understand we should stop being judgy because judgment is not a useful muscle for writing. Using it for writing is like trying to use your arms to do leg lifts.

In retrospect, I now understand my fixation on judging (tempered by a great respect for what writers were trying to achieve) was what made me such an excellent editor. I LOVED being able to apply my judgement to words and tweak them to make them better.

But producing those words in the first place? Not so much! Fortunately, I’ve now learned to write but I had to put my judgment on hold to do it. It surprises me that I did this by reducing the judging without identifying what could replace it. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I now realize that embracing curiosity would make the whole job much easier.

Here are the benefits of curiosity: First, it’s a positive emotion. When I imagine a curious person, I visualise someone who is cheerful, happy, interested. Second, it’s a renewable resource. We can always restore our curiosity by exploring something new related to what we’re writing about. Third, it’s deeply motivating. It builds our interest, which is what encourages us to work harder and more deeply. Fourth, it increases our empathy. By being curious, we’re able to learn about what other people are thinking and feeling and see the connections to our own thoughts and feelings. Fifth, it helps strengthen our relationships. When we’re curious, it’s inevitable that other people will see us to be truly interested in them.

Also, being curious is especially helpful in dealing with the negative self-talk that plagues so many writers. Phrases like… 

I’m a terrible writer

My words are so boring and predictable

I just can’t learn to write any faster

…are turbocharged by judgement but wilt under the light of curiosity. Instead of letting those thoughts hijack your brain, you can take positive steps to deal with them. Breathing slowly. Noting your symptoms (sweating palms, flushed skin). Trying the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Reminding yourself that the only job to do when you’re writing is to write. Editing/evaluation always works better later.

One of the challenges of being curious is that it puts us in a state of not knowing. Many writers resist this state, feeling that it’s dangerous and worrying that they’ll never be able to write if they can’t pin down exactly what they believe. As well, curiosity also forces us to acknowledge that we might be wrong — another state that writers often resist.

But if you’re able to think first and write later, you’ll find the experience of curiosity to be both enjoyable and temporary. When I broke the habit of using judgement as my own Swiss Army Knife, I wish I had known that curiosity would be a better replacement tool.

As Robert Frost put it in an interview with the Paris Review, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

When you’re writing, stop being judgy and shift your judgement to curiosity. The writing will go far more easily.

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My video podcast last week gave advice about how to read more books. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel.  If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email,  Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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Have you ever worked to shift judgement to curiosity? How did you do it?  We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Aug. 31/19 will be put in a draw for a copy of my book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!