This is a tough call for many people who work in creative fields: walking the thin line between positive perfectionism and overboard self criticism. As a writer, I look at my work in a far more critical light than most others do.

I recently wrote about a script that moved up in a national competition. The interesting sidebar to this news is that the night before I received the announcement, I had reread my script and thought it was really dumb. In fact, I almost deleted it entirely! After receiving the news, I read it again and decided it wasn’t so bad.

So what does that say about me? Well, I’m overly critical of my own work. I always have been! I never like what I write nearly as much as other people do. In some ways this is helpful because it encourages me to work harder and to be more creative. But sometimes it can be a hindrance, especially the times when I toss a novel I’m writing aside because it’s not meeting my own standards.

So how about you? Are you more critical of your own work than other people are? If so, how do you approach this in your day-to-day job?

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About Dube

I am a professional freelance writer who specializes in magazine features, science stories, humor columns, novels, and scripts. I love receiving comments and thoughts on my posts, so write away! :) Visit my website, www.StephanieDube.com.

12 responses »

  1. Bruce Byfield says:

    I’ve never re-read a piece I’ve written without wanting to fix something. That goes for short stories and poems, essays in school, and the articles I write now as a computer journalist.

    The way I figure, this over-perfection is the reason why editors invented dead lines.

    Nothing else would make me stop polishing and submit stories.

  2. leftywritey says:

    I think being overly critical of ones own creations is one of the definitions of “writer” or artist. Great post!

    I remember singer Baby Face saying that it’s hard for him to listen to his own music after it’s released, because all he hears are (to him) what could’ve been added and what could have been better.

    It’s the same way for me, as a writer. I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll never be able to read my own writing the way other people read it.

    Em

  3. spyscribbler says:

    Oh definitely. I’ve reached a point where I rather enjoy making fun of my shortcomings. It amuses me, even, to pound on my failings.

    Not sure it’s healthy or not, but it tends not to cripple me any longer. I think I celebrate them: if I know they’re there, then I can work on fixing them. How scary would it be to not know one’s shortcomings?

  4. Ribeezie says:

    Am I more critical of myself & my work than of other people? Absolutely! I don’t like giving work any less than 100% of my effort and I’m displeased if I’ve felt I could’ve done more (which come to think of it, I guess we always end up feeling like we could’ve done more). Ultimately I know I’ve done a fine job (I’m often told so). If I wasn’t so critical my performance would be weaker. So do I think it’s ok to be overly-critical? I think so…yea…a little…

  5. kate says:

    I am uber-critical of my work so I completely understand you. On a similar theme and certainly more relevant to me as a noob to writing, I recently watched an interesting YouTube video (I need to go find it and when I do , I will post it on my blog!) which basically talks about the gap between the work you enjoy as a discerning reader/viewer with excellent taste and the work you are able to produce as a newbie. The highly refined skills of criticism which you are used to being applied to the greatest work mean that you know something great when you read / see it which can really hinder you when you first start out and it can take years before your work starts to live up to your high standards (if ever!).

  6. kate1976 says:

    Oops logged in as my old self – so please feel free to edit my comment to my new details – or not (or delete this!) … I am going now!!!

  7. Dube says:

    It’s nice to know that I’m not alone! :-)

    @Bruce – I agree. Sometimes a deadline is the only thing that gets me to “just let go” of the piece!

    @Lefty – Thanks for sharing about Baby Face. It does sound like a requirement for our field, doesn’t it? Something that’s a part of our makeup.

    @Spy – You enjoy making fun of your writing? LOL. I can’t wait to reach that point!

    @Ribeezie – You’re right. Being overly critical does result in a stronger product. As long as I’m not so critical that I quit the project entirely! :-P

    @Kate – VERY interesting. I’ll have to check your blog for the link! :)

  8. Let’s just say I read my writing with a critical eye. I don’t think I’m overly critical, but I won’t post until I am absolutely happy with it. My dad, on the other hand drives us all nuts. He is an incredible artist. He goes off to openings of his artsy friends. He comes home muttering about how his watercolours are as good or better. Out they all come and he starts to frame them. 24 hours later, they are all back in boxes. The up note on this is that we will inherit them all. My brothers and I will pick what we like, and then we will shamelessly frame and sell the rest *grin*

  9. Steph says:

    As an editor, I find it extremely difficult not to heavily scrutinize my writing, specifically my fiction. It’s so hard to just let myself write. Instead, I edit every sentence as I go, and then, often discouraged because of how tedious and difficult it is to write that way, I don’t finish. Easier to edit other people’s work!

    I’ve been reading a lot about how to write, about letting myself go, getting into that creative space and out of that self-critical editor space, to just let everything come out without inhibition. It’s very tough getting back into something I love after so much time away from it (specifically fiction writing).

    One of the tricks, I suppose, is to do what one writer said: “Let THEM decide. You just DO.”

  10. kraze says:

    Its good to be a perfectionist in all artistic fields. The best critic you have is yourself… and you know what you want your image to represent. Granted some of your better work may slip through its a growing process. If you arent critical of yourself then you wont put out what you consider your best..

  11. Dube says:

    Panther – LOL! Wow! Your dad really is a bit too hard on himself!

    Steph – Good advice. It’s hard to turn off the “inner editor” and just write, but that’s the way to do it.

    Kraze – Great point and you’re absolutely right. I guess it’s better to be too critical than not critical enough!

  12. [...] up: Even if others say you stink ;-) Some of you may recall a post I wrote awhile back about being too critical of your own work. In addition to being a law student, I’m also a professional writer. I’ve learned over [...]

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