When I was in high school I thought my knowledge of the English language was more than sufficient. I thought that when I wrote I could turn out pieces that were correct-enough that no one would provide me with criticism other than the occasional spelling mistake. Then, when everything I had learned in school fell behind me and I found my mind quickly growing estranged and foreign to it, I began to realize that my grasp of the English language was not everything it had been, or maybe it never was. At any rate, I had no problem admitting that my work needed improvement–just not by me. I was content to let others analyze and correct my mistakes because I still felt that there weren’t THAT many to find.
However, it would seem that I was wrong. Recently someone pointed out quite a number of grammatical and punctuational “errors” in a single piece of my work. Some of them were merely “awkward sentences” that I think are just a part of my style and therefore those supposed “errors” are irrelevant, but I must admit that some very good points were made as to actual errors, and it made me wonder, at what point does an author (especially one such as I who have no “professional” editor) have to take a step back and say, Good lord, perhaps I should do something about this!–?
Interesting enough that this should happen on the particular day that it did, because only just before this I had read two articles that helped me to deal with this criticism and find an answer to my question.
The first was The Art of Handling Criticism Gracefully by Leo Babauta in which Leo says that the most important thing is to handle criticism gracefully. So I replied to this criticism by thanking the giver as sincerely as I could, and then stating my own view on the subject, that being that stories, unlike essays, don’t need to be picture perfect. It is the feel, the mood, and the inspiration from which they have been drawn that matters most.
The second was 10 Tips for Writing Excellence From Top Writing Bloggers which, btw, is just packed full of good advice! #2 and #5 especially were what came back to me as I analyzed this criticism. In #2 James Chartrand said that it is important NOT to get caught up with editing, re-editing, and trying to make your work perfect. He said, “Your writing doesn’t really matter. Your message does.” And I think that is true. I mean, my writing matters to me, and well it should. But it’s my message that is important. That’s what I’m trying to get across to you, and if I spend all day trying to make my writing perfect then you will never get my message. So I have to tell myself to just relax and let it be what it is! In #5 Linda Formichelli said more or less the same thing, that your writing probably isn’t perfect and wont be no matter how many times you look at it, so just don’t worry about it!
So, having read those articles I knew already that literary perfection wasn’t my chosen goal, and that it didn’t really matter. What bothered me most about being criticized in such a way was that the giver had not even stopped to say, hey, that was a fantastic story, really heart-felt. Thanks for that! They just started right in with all the things I had done wrong, and that set me off in a bad mood and got me thinking about editing.
So does it really matter? I mean, I want others to appreciate my work. I don’t want them to be distracted from the purpose by all the grammatical and punctuational mistakes I make. But when do I have to stop and say, it doesn’t matter?
This is my solution: to add to my schedule time to improve my knowledge of the English language and how it is supposed to be written, to set aside a time when I will practice doing it right. That way I can improve my writing and know that I’m giving my readers a more fulfilling experience! I want to do what I can, and I know I certainly can do more. But anything beyond that set time doesn’t matter, because my point has been made!