Quite a few people have told me I'm far too harsh a judge of my writing. Jos most disliked this, taking it as a personal insult when I'd dismiss something I've written as boring, inconsequential or silly. Or sometimes, just plain bad.
My friend David continually boosts my pieces, while sheepishly and reluctantly accepting praise for his own. I know it's not low self-worth or a false sense of humility in his case. Most times, it's not with me, either. I genuinely look at my essays and think, "This could, no should be better." When I was younger and being graded or even published, this push for the best could become tiring and frustrating. Sometimes, it led to a stunting paralysis. I would stare at a blank Word document for hours.
This morning at Rod Dreher's blog, I read a post about the upcoming release of his book, "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming." In the combox, he expresses his own harsh self-critiquing standards.
... All I can see in anything I ever write are the flaws, and it’s very difficult for me to re-read it without cringing and feeling terribly guilty for my mistakes. I can’t take pride in anything I’ve written. This is one reason I love cooking: the proof of its quality is in the tasting. When I’ve fallen short on cooking, I don’t feel bad about it, only resolved to learn from my mistakes. When I’ve fallen short on writing, it’s crushing … and I always think I’ve fallen short on writing. The one saving thing is I know this is neurotic, and that I can’t trust my judgment regarding my own work.
Once I found a document on my computer desktop, opened it and started to read it. I was thinking, “This is good, I wonder who wrote it.” And then I remembered that I had written it a year before for a magazine that decided it didn’t want it. It was a tossed-off essay. If I had remembered from the beginning that it was my own work, I would have thought it was sh*t. Because that’s how I roll.
I've done the same thing. Guess I roll in good company, then, neuroses and all.