Today, I had a conversation with a woman I really admire.

I won’t give her name, nor will I tell you who she is. All you need to know is her strength. She’s quietly confident. She’s intelligent and open. She’s quick to laugh and quick to bring smiles to the faces of the people around her. She gave me a chance when I felt like no one ever would. I’ve learned a lot since I met her, and for that, I’m very grateful.

Today, I had a conversation with a woman I really admire, and it made me hurt for all the artists out there.

She’s not a people person, but she’s good with words. She’s accomplished and a good leader. Those of us who know her know she’s going far in life. But even with all of that, there’s a small voice in the back of her head, one that holds her back.

Criticism hurts.

At one point in her life, she was a writer, but cruel words and hurtful attacks left her scared of showing others the way she could string a line. I know that feeling, too. I know what it feels like to be pulled aside, to be told it’s never going to be enough, to hear that my writing is flawed beyond control, beyond repair, beyond recognition.

Many, perhaps most, of us know. Criticism hurts. When kind words become twisted in the mouth, tainted with bitterness, anger, jealousy, spite, they take form. Ideas and thoughts become tangible; they twist into knives. Sometimes the wounds are too deep to stitch up. Sometimes the ache doesn’t go away.

Today, I took a walk down memory lane. I remember my high school journals. I remember my notebooks from middle school. I remember being told I wasn’t descriptive enough, that my stories dragged, that my tone was off. I remember my college essays, two scarlet letters N-O filling an entire page. I remember how much that dug into me. To this day, red ink will not touch my pages.

We’re supposed to build each other up, to lift each other when we fall. But arts are subjective. Cruelty is a reality, one we can’t escape from no matter how hard we try. All of us have these battle scars. All of us are scarred. All of us are wounded.

We shouldn’t have to tend to these wounds alone.

Be kind in your words. Offer a gentle hand if you see someone stumbling. Don’t be the hurricane tearing tiles from the roof. Be the builder putting up the beams.

Also remember something big. The world is not entitled to your creations. In those moments you ache to put something on the page, be it words, paint, ink, it doesn’t matter-do it. Your creations are for YOU and you alone.

Criticism comes. It’s not fair, but it happens. Write anyway. Craft anyway. Take up your space and demand the right to express yourself the way you wish to. Friends, writing circles, art classes, and communities can be golden resources, but they don’t matter. You matter. Your voice matters. Help raise the beams for another person, sure, but be the one to hoist your own as well.

Every single one of us would be better for it.

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