How to Be Better Than Perfect

How to Be Better Than Perfect

by Elizabeth Blake

When I was younger and fresh from a high school literature courses, I took other people’s poor grammar seriously. I wanted to speak and write properly and expected other people to want the same thing. When texting came along, I knew I was in trouble. In a reactionary crusade against the ROTFs and BAEs, I would “help” friends with there/their/they’re and your/you’re and me/I.texting language

I tried to speak well and write better, mostly because communication is important – but also because I cared about caring about grammar. Unabashed poor language made me think the whole of humanity was backsliding into the literary equivalent of reality television.

A friend insisted that proper grammar is “classism,” and it shouldn’t matter how something is said as long as it is said. I quipped that good language can transcend class boundaries and is required to accurately convey what one means, but the argument has never been settled. Though it pleases me to announce she now knows the difference between there/their/they’re.

When self-publishing came along, typos came with it. Hordes of new books were available on the market, sent forth into the world from a multitude of authors. Sometimes, those authors would employ editors. Other times, it seems they skipped that step altogether.

Typos make me wince. If I’m reading a book and I see several in a row, I put the book down and take a breath. Sometimes I go back to it, but chances are good it falls into the chafe at the bottom of my Kindle library.

Did you catch that? I said chafe, not chaff. Did that trouble you? Because it irked the crap out of me, even though I did it deliberately. If you grimaced when you saw it, then you know what I’m talking about.

angry_chibiSo when I decided to self-publish, naturally I paid for an editor. I paid a lot. And the manuscript still came back with typos. Picture a chibi caricature of rage. That was me.

Six books later, after struggling to fix my editors’ edits and raging about misplaced words that somehow escape dozens of sets of eyes (those sneaky Houdini typos), I have resolved to care less. I forgive a few errors. I tolerate a lot more.

I attribute the new relaxed me to the absolutely fantastic books I’ve been reading which happen to have a few errors in them. As a reader, I find good story can transcend a few “oops” moments. As a writer, I know that obsessing over “oops” can suck a manuscript into the No Man’s Land of self-soothing edits and eternal proof reading.

Don’t get me wrong. Editing is still important and absolutely necessary; however, obsessively thrashing a book to death won’t help the story. In fact, it’s probably a fear response because the author (meek little me) doesn’t want to release the book into the world where the audience will find my errors (as they always do) and mock me for them.

I have to remind myself: Elizabeth, you’ve been over this a dozen times. Literally. Stop being afraid of a few errors and get the damned thing out there.

How can a book survive a few faux paus? It needs a good story. More than a solid plot, it needs good characters. And those characters need development. Are those present in your manuscript? Or are you too busy seeking typos to notice?

good storytelling wins

If the pursuit of “perfect” is killing your good story, it’s time to set that aside. Settle for good. It hurts at first. It will chaff you.

Don’t worry. You’ll survive. You have another book to write after this one, and it’s waiting for you.


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elizabeth-blake
Elizabeth Blake is a complex woman. She’ll tell you that she’s not that complicated, that her demands are simple: Coffee, good books, freedom, world domination… Elizabeth Blake is a sorceress of stories, a lover of letters. If you want to get to know her, visit The Mind & Heart of Elizabeth Blake, pick up her books, follow her on social media, buy her a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

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6 Responses to How to Be Better Than Perfect

  1. Rita Goldner says:

    Good blog. As former elementary school teacher, I’ve had to relax a little, too, so I don’t sound stiff. I’m guessing you deliberately put a split infinitive “to accurately convey” in the third paragraph. That used to drive me nuts, but I’m looser now.

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  2. Excellent! You’re a woman after my own heart, Elizabeth. (I almost wrote “your” just to be sassy.) Rita, I also saw the split infinitive, but I see them almost everywhere nowadays (is that an actual word?) The point is well taken, however. First, write a good story. Then, edit. If one is lucky enough, maybe she’ll find a well-educated (in grammar) feedback group.

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  3. Beth Kozan says:

    It drives me CRAZY to read a book that has lots of typos and is poorly edited. I haven’t yet reached the ‘leave it alone’ stage. Not sure that I want to. (Now see there? I ended a sentence with a preposition! So there!)

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  4. Elizabeth, I feel your pain! I find typos, misused words, wrong grammar, and missing words in every book I read. As you say, amazing stories lie behind these distractions. So I listen for the author’s voice now, in each. Thanks for a beautifully written piece.

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  5. Great blog! I find errors in books all the time. I’m sure it’s because I write and have developed an eye for proper grammar. It doesn’t bother me if I run into a few spaced throughout a book, but if I keep bumping into error after error, I put the book down.

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  6. Writing a book about grammar has been a humbling experience. I still strive for “perfect,” but I know the endeavor can sap time and energy. When I find an occasional grammar blip in a book I’m reading, I think, “I can see how that probably happened,” and I move on. Repeated errors make me wonder if maybe there was no editor — or that the editor was inexperienced. Thanks, Elizabeth, for the view of perfection through your lens.

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