I recently self-published my first novel and before I put it up for sale, I spent a year-and-a-half working on it. Writing, editing, chapter outlining, re-writing, more editing, formulating, and then I had two editors go over it with fine-toothed combs to help me make it the best it could be.
On the day we launched, I was terrified. I’m a self-proclaimed perfectionist grammar snob and I was sure there was a type-o somewhere, I hadn’t caught, and I would be judged. So I e-mailed my developmental editor, and we talked it through. She told me not to read the book for some time, because I was sure to find something I would want to change and it was time to let the bird leave the nest. She said she’d made the mistake of reading her own book three days after publication and found a couple errors, but had to let them go.
So I took a deep breath and waited. People started to read my book, and the feedback came pouring in. 99.9% was amazingly positive, but it was from a few overly helpful friends and relatives, who have no background in writing of any kind, that I got these kinds of comments. “Well I loved it, but I found a couple typos…” and, “My friend found a few mistakes.”
My blood began to boil immediately. I wanted to scream, “Do you have any idea how hard I’ve worked on this!? And that’s what you’re gonna come at me with!?” but I didn’t. I asked, with forced calm, what the mistakes were. One of them was actually not an error. This particular relative thought I should have said, “twinkling” when I said, “tinkling” to describe the ringing of a cell phone. So I explained to her that that was actually what I had intended to write, but thanks for her feedback.
My own mother, who is the most loving and supportive person in my life even chimed in with, “Well, so and so found an error, do you want to know what it is?” and I just simply said, “No.”
I know that my family and friends mean well, but nitpicking of this kind really stifles creativity. It’s hard to create when we’re constantly judging ourselves as we work – worrying that our piece sucks and won’t be perfect, instead of letting our imaginations flow. I know so many people who would love nothing more than to write a novel, or produce a music demo, or create a film, but they don’t because of fear that it “won’t be good.”
On the flip-side, why do we, the audience, find ourselves hypercriticizing the work to find and point out mistakes? (Particularly in areas where we are not experts ourselves?) I’ve found myself doing it too, and it’s so confusing to me, because aren’t we sort of raised to accept that nobody is perfect and by extension, nobody’s work is perfect? Nothing is perfect, right? So why is there this collective need amongst our culture to correct people when they put their work and themselves out there, instead of appreciating it for what it is?
I ranted about this recently on my Facebook page, and one of my friends re-posted my comment and we started to talk about it. She said that as a fellow writer, it makes her crazy when people point out little errors – almost as if that’s the only thing they took away from her piece, and I totally agree. I’ve read books published by Random House and Little Brown and I’ve found a missing apostrophe, or comma, but I don’t care if the story is captivating and exciting, or funny and witty.
My dad was a TV producer and when we would watch movies and TV shows together, he would always snap his fingers when he’d see a bad match between takes, and it drove me crazy. I began avoiding watching shows and movies with him just so he wouldn’t snap me out of my reverie over a technicality. But sadly, as I grew up, I developed the same habit of catching bad matches in films.
When I saw The Wolf of Wall Street last winter, I actually caught a bad match during the scene when Jonah Hill whips out his mister at the beach house. I think there was a sunscreen bottle on a ledge in the background that disappeared and reappeared with two different cutaways, but do you think I’d ever attempt to contact Martin Scorsese and tell him that I loved his film, but there was a bad match in the Hamptons scene?! Indeed I would not! Was that what I took away from the film? No. I spent nearly three wonderful hours lost in a fantastic and hilarious story and the bad match did not make the film any less wonderful or any less Oscar-worthy. Should my novel be less enjoyable to someone because I said “then” instead of “than” and neither of my editors caught it? No.
So maybe I’m an idealist, or maybe I should just suck it up and accept that some people are always going to run their mouths when they shouldn’t. People who don’t have kids will try and offer parenting advice. People who are tone deaf will criticize singers. People who have no experience with writing, other than college essays, will point out grammatical errors. I guess to make themselves feel better? Or to reaffirm that their brains are working? I’m not sure. But I’d like to instigate a call to arms that we all quit nitpicking each other. That we stop criticizing the way others dress, the way others parent, the way they write, the way they work, the way they speak, (will it really ruin your day if someone says, “aks” instead of “ask?”) Because everyone is doing the best they can, and unless you are asked for your opinion, or someone is attacking your religion, culture, civil rights, race, sexual orientation, gender, child or loved one, you really should just hush your mouth and follow the advice of Thumper the bunny’s mom. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Full stop.