Monday, June 29, 2009

An Interesting Phenomena

Several years ago, I used to help my Ballroom dance teacher with his classes. I noticed a really interesting phenomena. We had students come to us who had taken ballroom classes before. Whenever one of them copped an attitude and wouldn't take the beginner's class because they didn't need the beginner's class, invariably they turned out to be the worst students and the worst dancers. Conversely, our best and brightest students didn't believe they were very good and were quite content to hang out in the beginner's class and work on their technique. How well someone could dance is inversely proportional to how well they think they can dance. It's very rare to find someone who is objective about their skill level.

What does this have to do with writing and publishing you ask?

Well, I've noticed the same thing among unpublished writers. Those who I think are absolutely brilliant, think their writing sucks donkey bits. Those who think their writing is the greatest thing since Homer jotted down a little poem, write dreck.

Digging a little deeper what I find is those who get down on their writing are the same as those dancers who didn't think they were very good. They are perfectionists. Perfectionism is a good thing when it helps one strive to do better, perform better, write better. But, it's a bad thing when it strangles the writer and prevents them from writing, blinds them to what is good about their writing or in accepting the honest feedback that they are getting.

It's very rare to find someone who is objective about their own work. Yet, to write the best that one can write, objectivity is, in my opinion, absolutely necessary. Couple objectivity with perfectionism, the output will be amazing.

How does one get objectivity? Curiously enough, I don't know as I don't have it. I realized as I was writing this post that I probably fall into the "thinks her writing is good, but it's really dreck" camp. The last two people I showed one of my own stories to ... one that I was really proud of and thought was pretty good ... both reacted rather tepidly to it. I guess it's a good thing that I can see it in other's stories and decided to become a publisher, rather than bash on trying to become a published author myself.

By the way, I hear they are having a sale on objectivity this week ... if you're running a bit low ...


  1. I keep all my objectivity in my editing hat (see my blog for to understand), and refuse to get it out UNLESS I'm editing.
    I find that, if I try and view my work objectively while I write it, it suffers.

    As for yer other point, I neither think of my work as dreck, nor perfect. Where do I go? :-)



  2. Then there are those psychotic bipolar types like me. One day I think it's pretty good, and the next day I want to chuck it in the trash, curl up in the corner and suck my thumb.


  3. I have days where I think there might be something worth keeping, and then I actually ingest my daily caffeine and wonder what I was thinking. :D lol

    I try to be a little more objective in editing. I'm not sure it works. I still think it all sucks until I bash it into shape where I can tolerate looking at it, then I need to ask one of my trusted beta readers if it's worth keeping or scrapping. They have better judgment than I do. *pets her betas--er, beta readers*



  4. I think you're onto something. When I've beta read for people, if it is preceded with "This is freaking awesome, I love it", chances's crap. If it's preceded with, "I think this blows, but if you could let me know how to fix it up...", it makes me seethe with professional jealousy (credit to Scarlett for that phrase).

    I'm insecure as hell about my own writing. Don't know if that reflects the quality or not, but there it is. Maybe it's just the nature of the beast for writers?

  5. I'm with Lunatic. One day I think I'm pretty awesome. Then the next day, I'm garbage. Overall, I fear I am garbage. With delusions of grandeur. Those are the worst kind. EEEk.

  6. This reminds me of a study done comparing people's abilities to their perceptions of their abilities: In their tests, the top 25% of participants tended to underestimate their performance, and the bottom 25% grossly overestimated theirs.

    Which, of course, only leaves me terrified that I'm a bottom-quartiler and don't know it.

  7. There you go, my observation backed up by a scientific study. I wonder if they came to the same conclusion about why that may be so, as I did.