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.