Perfectionism & Criticism

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A couple of years back, a self-published author asked me to read and then review their e-book. “It’s nearly perfect,” they said. “I’ve had it edited by a friend of a friend who’s an English teacher.

“How honest do you want me to be?” I asked.

There’s the rub. How honest? Just so you know, that “nearly perfect” editing resulted in a piece with gross grammatical errors and often laughable word usage. I wrote an honest review and before posting it, sent a copy to the author. Never heard from them again.

Growing up, I learned that making a mistake was the worst thing you could possibly do. I know I’m not alone because perfectionism—not the immobilizing kind but the quality of believing in one’s unquestionable faultlessness—runs rampant. Everybody may be saying “nobody’s perfect” but who admits to making errors? And above all, never apologize.

In my last paid job—one that lasted almost twenty years–I spent about fifty percent of my time writing business proposals. At least ten people, and sometimes as many as thirty, reviewed and critiqued what I wrote.

Without commenting on the lack of efficiency inherent to that process, one benefit I gained early on was how to take criticism, both constructive and ridiculous. For my own sanity, I adopted an attitude of learning when faced with the errors of my writing ways.

For example, should I have used “I” as an object instead of “me”? Really? But instead of arguing with that particular (repeat) grammar offender, my attitude of learning led me to take the time to look it up. I’d explicate, using expert citations, the grammar of subjects and objects and first-person pronouns.

I learned something and, hopefully, so did my critic.

That same approach has helped me grow as a fiction writer. It goes beyond “learn from your mistakes” to Miller’s Law: “In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to find out what it could be true of.”

So critique me. My long-held mantra still works. I’m far from perfect. I’m open to whatever you tell me because it may make me a better writer.

 

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