Pumping the brakes on perfectionism…

“The greatest mistake we make is living in constant fear that we will make one.” ~ John C. Maxwell ~

A little more on perfectionism today because it is why I avoided writing the last week or so. The avoidance began after being involved in a discussion about published books and famous authors.

The discussion started after a friend discovered a mistake in pronoun use in a New York Times best-selling novel. I mentioned I was surprised such a mistake had made it past the editors at a large reputable publishing house. All were in agreement.

The talk then turned to mistakes writers make. Another friend mentioned she is appalled when writers use “comma splices”. Everyone involved in the discussion then began to detail errors they have seen in published books. I stood silent.

As the group broke up for the evening, all I could think was: I do not know what a “comma splice” is, oh my God, and I think I’m a writer? I’m not a writer, or I would know what that is.

I drove home pondering if I should continue to write or give it up completely. To be honest, I was ready in that moment to swear off writing forever. (I had done so once before, after a grade 12 English class with a teacher who terrified me. That swearing off of writing lasted twenty years or more.)

This was also not the first time in more recent history I was having anxiety over my writing. I have Facebook “friends” who are published poets, authors, high school and college level English instructors, spoken word artists, lyricists, Ph. D university professors and creative writing instructors, journalists, and English literature majors. The thought has crossed my mind many times that my writing is not up to their standards, and absolutely I admit it is not.

(Even writing the previous sentence I am thinking: I used the word “that” again. Oh no. I am just proving my own point. Of course I am not a “real writer”.)

The next day a friend who is in my writing group phoned me.  I confessed the anxiety I was having because of what occurred the night before. She started laughing and assured me I probably DID know what a comma splice was, I just did not know it by that term. Thanks my friend, I needed to hear your encouraging words.

I took a deep breath; I realized as a reader it is not perfect grammar, punctuation, classic structure, or extensive vocabulary which catches my attention, rather it is authenticity. Granted there are certain standards to be upheld in writing, as in all communication, but I can be forgiving of writers who make some errors if what they have to tell me is authentic. If a piece of writing resonates with me I don’t care if it’s in the form of a cartoon with word bubbles and thought clouds, or a poem with no structure or rhyme.

If I can be forgiving of other writers making mistakes, so must I be forgiving of myself. Part of why I named this blog as I did is because I do want to be wanton, both playful and a bit reckless in my writing. Maybe all along I wanted to send a subliminal message to those seeking perfection in writing – this would not be the place to find it.

 

P.S. “A comma splice is the use of a comma to join two independent clauses. For example: It is nearly half past five, we cannot reach town before dark. Although acceptable in some languages and compulsory in others (e.g. Bulgarian or French), comma splices are usually considered style errors in English.”

17 thoughts on “Pumping the brakes on perfectionism…

    • Well, I did say in the post: “Granted there are certain standards to be upheld in writing, as in all communication, but I can be forgiving of writers who make some errors if what they have to tell me is authentic.” And if someone has mediocre standards and they fall below them……YES, they should still write, but if their writing is not easily understood because it is so poor, they may wish to not put it out for public consumption. They may still get lots of enjoyment for writing for themselves though, and that always should be encouraged. If they write enough, learn the basics of language, soon enough they may have writing to share that will be understood and enjoyed by others. That’s my thought anyway, what do you think?

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  1. I still don’t know what a comma splice is but I’m about to look it up. I thought of two things to share with you regarding this post: first, Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast Magic Lessons (I’ve listened to every single one and they are so good) and also the podcast Grammar Girl. I’ve just started listening and I’ve learned much so far. That whole who vs whom thing…. Anyway, great post. Even though you didn’t tell me what a comma splice is. 😉

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    • Thanks for stopping by! I did originally post a P.S. of what a comma splice is but then deleted it. I figured those who were curious enough would look it up anyway, but maybe I will edit the post and reinsert. Thanks for the podcast recommendations – I love GIlbert’s book Big Magic so I’m sure I’ll love her podcast too.

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  2. Thanks for writing this! I am a grade 12 graduate and rather than a secondary education, I learned from the hard knocks of life. Being denied a student loan was what led me down that particular road but I thank my lucky stars every day that it did. I do question my abilities all the time, though.. Grade 12 English class and lessons about grammar are a very distant memory. I beat myself up all the time because I don’t know if I am writing the correct way. ‘How can I call myself a writer if I don’t know grammar perfectly?’ is what I ask myself ALL THE TIME! When I feel down I try to remember that what moves me is not a perfectly placed coma, but the feeling I get from the words a writer chose to string together. That’s it. My writing isn’t perfect, but if it inspires someone or makes them feel, then I did something right! Nice to know I am not alone feeling this way! 😊

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  3. Very well written Suzanne! The punctuation thing to me is akin to someone writing a news report stating that so and so (usually a celebrity) was wearing the wrong attire for the event… I write to please myself with the hope that the readers of what I might spew-out will enjoy the tale I’m relating and not if it is all grammatically correct. My worst experience was in writing a new set of by-laws or is it bylaws with a woman who considered herself an expert of English grammar and punctuation… took 2 1/2 years to write stuff which no-one reads… I have read many books in my time and many have small errors especially in the use of there and their, or your and you’re… and then sometimes I’m reminded that I have missed the entire point of the thing! Live goes on. Mom is right now editing my 125 radio scripts, so she is having fun I think…only 25 more scripts to write… when I get them done I will give you a memory stick for your enjoyment and/or critical analyzes… Dad

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  4. I wanted to let you know how I shared your blog yesterday. I was volunteering at the hospital and overheard a conversation with my trainer (a retired school principal) and an ex student of hers. He is a very deep thinker and a struggling writer. After the very long conversation with him and hearing her say to him some of the same thoughts the you have, I shared this with her. (She also read the two P’s.) She said that you were a brilliant writer and she loved the way you are able to express yourself in a way that can touch others. Just another admirer of your talents! Keep it up.

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    • Kenna, thank you so much for telling me about you sharing my blog with the lady at the hospital. It is very timely, good serendipity that you are telling me about this. Yesterday I received my notice re: annual payment for my blog. I pay a yearly fee to “wordpress” to “host” my website / blog. (There are free sites, but I like that I can customize this one and have my web domain address, my own photo on banner etc.)

      Anyway, when I saw the invoice for the next year I wondered if i should continue blogging or not. I thought if it is only people I know well personally reading I could share my writing in another way via e-mail or whatever. But, I do like the look of my site, and coming here is like a little respite for me too, a change of scenery. 😉 Also, I often wondered about the “strangers” that might visit my blog, and if maybe I have helped them in some way, or at least perhaps encouraged them. So, I did renew. Seeing your message today tells me I made the right choice.

      Please pass along my thanks to the lady at the hospital if you see her again, I appreciate her compliment. I am so glad she told the fellow about the two “p’s” too, and I hope if he loves to write, he continues to do so, because that’s all that really matters.

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      • I am now going to share it with the man she was talking to that was struggling so. Keep writing my friend and glad I could be helpful in some way.

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  5. Love this blog, Suzanne! Worrying about grammar before you write is like worrying about breathing. If you think too much, you choke! I think people need to express themselves, even just to themselves, as it is so rewarding. If you decide to publish, there are lots of people who enjoy editing (hint hint). Just don’t squelch the poetry!

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  6. As someone who loves writing, I completely agree with you. That fear of not being perfect can really sabotage all joy and passion that comes from writing from a place of creativity. It’s wonderful to celebrate the fact that imperfection is a chance to grow and improve. In a sense it’s vital for us to accept it and cherish it! P.s I had no clue what a comma splice is haha

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    • Hi Kia Jade – thanks for stopping by to read my blog! I like your comment about celebrating imperfection as a chance to grow and improve. Absolutely that IS the best way to look at it. And re: comma splice…..I’ve discovered few writers know that’s what the error is called! We are in good company.

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