Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rejection versus perfectionism

Rose center in blueImage by tanakawho via Flickr

I got an interesting email this morning - normally, after posting (like I did the other morning), I'd wait a couple of days, but this one just couldn't wait.
I was talking about rejections yesterday, and I wasn't entirely clear or accurate. Most of the pieces I'm currently having rejected are later accepted by magazines further down my submission chain.
But there are just some places I CANNOT get into - the elusive areas of fiction writing that would really make a huge difference to my morale, my goals and possibly my writing career.
Where does the email fit into this?
Well, yesterday I got a rather sniping email asking if I realised I was making 'smelling mistakes' (I'm assuming they meant spelling ;)) and that no American author should make the mistakes I do.
Well, for a start, I'm British, not American. We use the Queen's English instead of American English. Both are perfectly valid language variations in my opinion - and there's no reason to say American English is derivative, because both languages, in my opinion have evolved since splitting paths. I'd probably have etymological students up in arms right about now, but to be honest, for me, it’s splitting hairs. And if you prefer the look of color without the U, that's great! I can't write that though without my brain screaming 'WRONG!'
Secondly, I'm mildly dyslexic. I also rush when I'm writing blogs, because, to me they are very 'immediate'. I have spelling and punctuation problems, but I don't rely on Word to check them, and that's something I'm trying to teach myself to get over. Most of my favourite bloggers make the same mistakes as me ;). Its not an excuse though, so I'm trying to fix that.
Blog posts, for me though, aren't the same as the writing I'm sending to my editors. Both are equally important to me, for different reasons, but I *really* don't view what I'm saying on blogs as the same as what I'm sending to editors. The immediacy issue aside, I also feel that no matter how you cut it, blogs are less formal - they don't require nearly as much editing, and while that can lead to sloppy writing, it's more likely that the poster is just in a hurry. Again though, that's not an excuse for making spelling and grammar mistakes (my most common one is 'it's' and forgetting the apostrophe ;))
I am however making a few changes.
I'm going to 'slow down' - I'm going to write posts in Word and hopefully, I'll see a pattern in what mistakes I make - which will tighten up my writing, and feed my perfectionist streak.
And yes, I know, it sounds odd saying I'm a professional writer that makes all these mistakes – so I’m going to start removing them, just to make sure that I’m presenting exactly that. Though my blog posts and my fiction writing are two completely separate things, there’s absolutely no reason for me to handle them differently.

What do you think?


Carolyn Erickson said...

I'm split between two opinions on this, Kai.

One, I think that since we are writers, we have an obligation to present ourselves professionally in all written communication.

But on the other hand, posts aren't (usually) polished presentations -- we do them on the fly, we squeeze them into our schedule, and hey - mistakes happen. That's why even professional writers have *editors.*


I have to admit to myself that when I see repeated sloppy mistakes on a writer's blog, my knee-jerk reaction is to assume that they aren't a very good writer.

I think spelling, grammar and punctuation are like the business suit of the CEO or the carpenter's hand tools. We use them to do our jobs, so we really should have a comfortable familiarity with them.

But that doesn't mean we never make hurried mistakes. No one is perfect.

Carolyn Erickson said...

Fer instance: I said "they" in the comment above when I was referring to a singular writer.

Oops! (Probably won't be the last mistake I make either.)


Melanie Mulhall said...


This issue is a timely one for me. I am a freelance editor and writer, as well as an author. And I have a blog. (The Living the Dream blog can be found at www.melaniemulhall.wordpress.com.)

I am also a member of a large organization of women in the media and this very issue came zipping by (a bit like a drive by shooting) at a recent organization potluck.

A fellow member of the group commented that, judging from the emails sent to the group by one of the editors in the organization, she wouldn't be quick to hire the woman. Too many errors, apparently.

I was on the edge of this discussion and whipped my head around quickly enough to cause whiplash. No, she was not talking about me (or at least I don't think she was), but I am sensitive to the issue.

I offered my take on the subject and said that I tend to give fellow members of our group some slack where emails are concerned. We're on the fly. We're not writing something for posterity.
I added that I hoped I was cut the same slack.

But that tiny bit of conversation lingered. Just the thought of errors on my writing/editing website gives me a chill (and I'm a pretty hot blooded woman). I worry that errors on my web sites, my emails, and my blog might be seen as evidence that I am neither a decent writer, nor a decent editor.

I thought I was just exhibiting perfectionistic paranoia--then the comment from a peer.

Maybe it makes sense to check our work, even when we're on the fly.

If the group would like a few pointers from an award winning editor (that would be me) on some basic things writers can do to clean up their writing before it gets to an editor, I would be happy to do that when I have a moment to put it together.

As for the sniper you endured, Kai, that sort of behavior says way more about her (or him) than the comments say about you. Take your power back if you let any of dribble out when you read the comment.

Melanie Mulhall

Kai said...

Hi Melanie - don't even get me started about email. I used to get sniped at all the time when rejecting humour pieces because 'you're spelling humor wrong - why should I accept this rejection'. My managing editor used to laugh so hard when they'd drag thier other writing freinds into the argument in the hope of cowing us into (accepting the) submission.
I too am guilty though of taking an impression from a group and deciding not to work with people - though, in my case, I don't care about grammar and editing and spelling (unless they are directly applying) and more about thier attitude, and level of professionalism. I'm all for letting our hair down online, but if someone is ragging on everyone that rejects them, and can't see it *could* be them - or if someone thinks they are gods gift to the written word - if someone's mental health status is more important to them than manners (which is ironic I guess coming from me - being bipolar one, I've had to learn to control myself and my tounge) or if I just get a vibe of 'diva' off someone, I try not to work with them. I've got a mini diva in the house already - I can't do that with clients, peers and staff.
I like that this is generating discussion - and I don't mind putting my bad habits on display to do so. Thank you for commenting (and come join us at the writing mother(link in my previous post ;))if you like!)