Don’t rain on my parade (please?)


So it’s been a few months since I posted on my blog. Admittedly this is a poor show on my part, but on the other hand, I’ve been crazy busy.

Today, I was inspired to share an extract with you which struck me as poignant:

Ian McEwan

English writer Ian McEwan

“Many writers let their sentences unfold experimentally on the page in order to find out what they are, where they are going, and how they can be shaped. I would sit without a pen in my hand, framing a sentence in my mind, often losing the beginning as I reached the end, and only when the thing was secure and complete would I set it down. I would stare at it suspiciously. Did it really say what I meant? Did it contain an error or ambiguity that I could not see? Was it making a fool of me? Hours of effort produced very little, and very little satisfaction?

From the outside, this slowness and hesitancy may have looked like artistic scrupulousness, and I was happy to present it that way, or let others do it for me. [ … ]The voices of giants were rumbling over my head as I piped up to begin, as it were, my own conversation on the train.”

This is an extract from my English language course text book, where English writer Ian McEwan talks about his self-consciousness as a writer. As someone who often writes, re-writes, and re-writes again, his feelings of uncertainty certainly rang true with my own. So far, I’ve already re-written this post more times than its quality suggests!

This led me to consider how even minor musings via Twitter or Facebook can, for those who claim to be a writer by profession (as I do), act as a public advertisement of your ability. And what bait could be more tempting to those ready to pounce on errors of punctuation, grammar and meaning than a mistake from those who are supposed to get it right every time?

I’m surrounded by those who scrutinise my writing carefully, from my professional work (as they should) right down to my hastily constructed tweets. As such, I find myself in a situation where I’m intensely self-conscious about what I write and how I write it. When I make mistakes, most often in social media spheres, they’re often publicly highlighted, for no other reason than to highlight them.

My question is, as someone who writes for a profession, should I be expected to simply be ‘better’? Should I ensure that every Tweet, Facebook status update and comment on a blog is grammatically flawless? I would never suggest that my professional work should be anything short of mistake-free, but should we be publicly highlighting the mistakes of those who claim to be professionals via their social feeds?

In the interests of keeping this post short, I would like to put out a request to all the would-be pedants out there; please try to restrict your corrections of those who do commit their writing to the public eye. You may feel an entitlement to correct the professionals, but embarrassing others (who mostly aren’t professionals) for a mis-spelling or their mis-use of a word in front of their social network is one of the quickest ways to discourage them from writing at all.

For any other writers-by-trade out there, do you relate to McEwan’s sentiments, or do you write far less self-consciously? Do you think that pointing out the mistakes of others on social networks is important for maintaining standards, and should those of us who tout ourselves as professionals accept that we simply should be ‘better’?


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