writing tips

Monday Minute: Do You Hate Reading Your Own Writing?

I came to this realization the other day. While reading through an incomplete fan fiction story, I had the urge to quickly scan through my chapters and just be done with it. I felt like the writing was too choppy, too cluttered with unnecessary words and too juvenile. I’ve always wondered if this feeling was normal and after some research, I discovered that it’s actually quite common.

Feeling this way reminds me of actors who say they don’t like watching themselves on screen. This leads me to believe it’s a common experience among creative types. The expression “everyone is their own worst critic” rings true in this regard.

The bottom line though is that there’s always room for improvement. Feeling this way is not necessarily that bad either. I think it means that your talent hasn’t gotten to your head yet. That you see areas for improvement. That you’re still growing as a writer.

We’re afraid of mistakes. We want to be perfect but perfectionism is unattainable. We want to be the best we can be–and that’s really all we can be–the best we can possibly be.

I think every now and then we have to remind ourselves that perfectionism will keep us stilted. Anne Lamott said, “…Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp. In some cases we don’t even know that the wounds and the cramping are there, but both limit us. They keep us moving and writing in tight, worried ways…” (pg. 30, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)

In a way, reading through my older chapters was a good thing. It showed me how much I’ve improved as a writer—where I’ve come and where I am…It showed me what I need to work on in my writing to make it more concise, more powerful and more engaging. Although I’ve gotten more positive reviews than negative ones on my stories, the critical ones stand out to me a little more. Even when the odd reviewer is more abrasive than helpful, I do consider what they’re saying and try to see their point of view.

Lately, I haven’t been writing fan fiction stories and although I try to let things roll off my back, I think it has to do with some of the criticism I’ve been getting about my plot and writing style. Anne Lamott also mentions that our mental muscles cramp around our wounds, both from childhood and from adulthood. I wasn’t even aware that the negative reviews reminded me of that mean, rude kid in the playground who taunted me with insults–everyone has that one mean kid from their childhood–and that these reviews uprooted the self-doubt I feel deep within about my writing abilities even now as an adult.

The good news is that I’ve done a lot of self-reflection and found the silver lining in all of this. I’ve reminded myself that I started writing this fan fiction story as a teenager and that I’ve gone through a long period of growth since then. So I do have to cut myself some slack. And I think I’m better at identifying good writing and bad writing now. It means I’m not done growing and learning yet. And it means that the work I produce down the line will be better. If I saw no weak spots, there’d be no need to work harder and to continue sharpening my writing skills.

Perfectionism and self-criticism stifle creativity, innovation and enjoyment. I could see from my earlier writings that I threw caution to the wind and just rolled with it. Maybe it wasn’t as good as some of my writing now but it was clear I wasn’t filled with as much self-doubt and worry. I just had fun and bravely stuck my neck out a bit.

So although I may hate reading my own writing, I’m learning to cope with the feeling and reminding myself that I’ve come a long way.


11 thoughts on “Monday Minute: Do You Hate Reading Your Own Writing?”

  1. Sometimes it’s hard to go back and read something when you were still not so great at writing. Or the things that were “I just need to get something on the page!” I occasionally still find some things painful to read.
    As far as editing, however, I generally find that something is really completely finished when I read it and no longer make edits. That tells me I’m happy with it. It can sure take a while, though!

    1. That’s so true! I agree that it can definitely take a while to get to that point where we’re satisfied with a piece of work but sometimes there’s only so much editing/tweaking people can do. I think the quote “Art is never finished, only abandoned” applies really well in these cases. I suppose we always feel to some degree that we could finish something more but have to admit to ourselves that we’ve done the best possible job in the end. Thanks for your thoughts on this 🙂

  2. I’m usually pretty happy rereading my finished work, even if it was published 20 or 30 years ago. Often I wouldn’t do it the same way today, and sometimes I couldn’t do it today. I think to myself, “Wow, I’d forgotten I ever knew that.” I rarely reread things I set aside and never went back to — no time and so far not much inclination.

    It must be very strange for film actors to watch themselves from 40, 30, or even 10 years ago. It’s odd enough to be watching my favorite films and realizing that all of the actors in them are dead, and the older they got, the less they looked the way they did on screen.

    1. That’s a great feeling to have 🙂 Now that I think about it, I realize I also wouldn’t do things the same way now as compared to years before in my writing. I had a moment where I remembered that schooling changed the way I approached and thought about writing since then. I can understand that inclination–I think writers feel that there’s too many story ideas and so little time. It definitely must be strange for actors, especially if their career trajectory changed quite dramatically. Leslie Neilsen is one that comes to mind–a dramatic actor in his younger years but a comic, hilarious actor in his older years. It’s like watching a completely different person! I suppose the same happens when writers re-read their works–it feels like a different person’s voice. Thanks for your thoughts on this 🙂

  3. one of my favorite ideas is the idea of being prolific. Seth Godin, who is one of the most popular bloggers in the world, has authored 18 best selling books and has written a blog post every day for the last 18 years. he doesn’t believe in perfection though. he believes in the idea of “good enough.” I feel the same. once I write a post that is good enough, I post it. I don’t try to make it perfect with every line. eventually you get good at it, where every post is really good though. in the beginning “good enough” is just fine. like you said, if you try to make every post perfect, this can stifle you. action will always beat out trying to be perfect, just because trying to be perfect is really just procrastination and fear in disguise. great post:)

    1. That’s a great way of looking at it! That’s true, I think practice doesn’t make things perfect but it can make things really good. Wow, I never thought about perfectionism as procrastination and fear in disguise but that’s really true! Thank you and thanks for sharing your thoughts on this 🙂 It’s made me think about perfectionism in a different way.

      1. Yea I just think the need to want everything to be perfect is just another excuse to not create more. Glad I could give you a new perspective:))

      2. You’re right, procrastination keeps us safe and in our comfort zones. This makes me think of an awesome quote by Gandhi: “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.”

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