Quick to Learn, Slow to Judge

I have a longtime friend who has followed my writing career for more than twenty years. Today, he asked me about the writing projects I’m working on. I told him I have a book due in six weeks, but it’s a short book and that should be plenty of time to get it done.

In reply, he said something he’s said to me at least half a dozen times over the years, something that irritates me to pieces whenever he says it:

“Well, you always work best under pressure.”

Every single time he’s said that to me, I’ve explained, “No, I hate pressure. Deadline pressure is corrosive and destructive to my creativity. I don’t work best under pressure. I’m self-motivated, self-disciplined, and extremely productive without pressure. I don’t need deadline pressure to help me write quickly or write well. Your impression of me is 100 percent wrong.”

I’ve told him this many times in the past, but he never remembers. I know it’s not that big a deal, and that my friend means no insult. But it tells me that he thinks that, unless I have a deadline bearing down on me, I’m lazy, unmotivated, and undisciplined as a writer. It’s a slur on my character and an insult to my professionalism that he thinks I “always work best under pressure.”

It’s a minor issue, but by sheer repetition it has become like fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul. Though I’ve corrected him many times in the past, this time I just let it slide. I’m sick of trying to acquaint him with the reality of who I am as a writer and a human being.

It frustrates me that people tend to form judgments and opinions about others, and no matter what you say and how many times you say it, you can’t shake them out of their views. People judge each other based on the scantiest slivers of experience and information. Once they think they’ve got somebody pegged, their opinion hardens like concrete—and they filter out any new information that doesn’t support their prejudice.

I think we owe it to each other to really try to understand each other instead of forming snap judgments and closing our minds. We should always be open to new insights and open to revising our impressions of each other.

As motivational psychologist Steve Maraboli explains, “Judging prevents us from understanding a new truth. Free yourself from the rules of old judgments and create the space for new understanding.” Especially as writers, we have to continually be observant and open-minded, always willing to look at other people with new eyes and see truths we’ve never seen before.

Be quicker to learn than to judge. Keep all opinions subject to revision. Observe. Question. Understand.

Then write.

“It is well, when judging a friend, to remember that he is
judging you with the same godlike and superior impartiality.”
—Arnold Bennett

Leave a comment


  1. Hi Jim –
    Great post. I’m sharing it. Great lesson here. I love how you use quotes to back up your points. There are two sides to every story–even the villains. It’s great if we can see another’s pov and not judge when we’re developing our characters in fiction.

  2. So true, Michelle! The more empathy we can establish, even for our villain, the more we involve the reader’s emotions. Thanks!


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