Another writer’s curse

by | March 15, 2019 | General | 9 comments

I don’t care what you do. Your severest critic is you. And if you are a writer, increase that severity to an infinite power.

We second-guess ourselves mercilessly. We fuss over minute details. We agonize over using just the right word. Some of us have trashed completed stories after a final read because our inner critic dismissed it as so much drivel. But while our inner critic can prove debilitating, for the most part it keeps us on the straight and narrow and doesn’t let us down as a rule.

But there’s another drawback to having such a strong inner critic. You can’t turn it off. We’ve so honed our critical eye that, if it’s not able to fuss and flail at our own creations it will turn on any target of opportunity. And so it’s gotten to the point that my inner critic has made it difficult for me to enjoy many popular entertainments.

I’ve become remarkably difficult to please.

I recently watched a very well-regarded movie. It had garnered a couple of Oscar nominations and wins, much critical acclaim. But after I viewed it I was annoyed. I just couldn’t buy many of the scenes and plot twists. One character who started out as a knuckle-dragging cretin morphed 180 degrees into a thoughtful, noble character in the space of one scene. A number of other scenes left me shaking my head mumbling, as if that could happen.

I’m not talking about a lack of willingness to suspend disbelief, something we all must do to get into say, sci-fi or fantasy. This was a contemporary drama throughout which I kept thinking this stuff just couldn’t happen.

I find myself finding fault with a lot of movies, books, etc. And I wonder if  it’s just me.

I made my living as a copy editor. I’m retired, but misspellings and bad grammar still jump out at me. It was all I could do hold my tongue when I noticed pizzeria was misspelled on the awning of a local pizza joint I was patronizing. So, as you see, I’m already a bit hypercritical. But lately, it seems worse.

I’m beginning to fret whether I’ll ever be able to settle back and watch a movie, particularly one afforded critical acclaim without that voice interrupting, You gotta be kidding me. Who the heck wrote this? Are they serious?

It isn’t just me, is it. Please tell me other writers have been vexed by an overabundance of fussiness. And if you have, is there any hope for us?

Robert Buckley

Bob's stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, including multiple editions of Maxim Jakubowski's Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica.


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    I definitely know what you’re talking about. Being a writer has nearly spoiled my love of being a reader.

    Fortunately my critical eye doesn’t seem to range as widely as yours. I tend to treat movies as a different art form so my inner critic is less active. On the other hand, I’ve definitely had “what the f**k?” reactions to many highly acclaimed films that received rave reviews.

    • Robert Buckley

      There seems to be more WTF moments these days. I suppose I could put that up to becoming a crusty old crank, though.

  2. Rose

    OMG, Bob. Were we separated at birth?

    I find exactly the same thing, myself. Part of me wonders if it is just our age (I know we’re only a year and few days apart that way) and our respective educations that have made us this way. Combined, of course, with a knack for wordsmithing and going into occupations where excellent language skills play a critical role in our success. (Success not necessarily being in the big money arena, but in the way we do our jobs and earn every iota of praise we garner.)

    As you say, it isn’t a matter of suspending disbelief. It *is* a matter of once we’ve chosen to do that, being presented with high improbable or next-to-impossible scenarios even within that suspension state. We cannot turn off that part of our brain that says, “I may not be a physics genius, but the laws of probability just don’t make this a viable scenario.”

    As for grammar, I was just having this conversation with a colleague this week. Another colleague, a few weeks ago, suggested that I teach a grammar workshop at our next conference, because I’m so good at picking nits and seeing the egregious errors as well. It started with the misuse of “I”. If I do decide to offer up a workshop next year, I already know what I want to call it: “The Crawling I and Other Grammar Horrors.” Of course, that a play on the title of a B horror movie from 1959 called The Crawling Eye (British title The Trollenberg Terror). The Crawling I is the I that crawls, in a most frightening manner, into the wrong part of the sentence. e.g. “Susie emailed Jane and I with a workshop idea.”

    I read and hear that sort of thing a lot and it takes all my powers of being polite NOT to correct the person, usually because there are other people around and I don’t like to embarrass anyone in public. I so want to send back emails with the incorrect elements underlined in red and put a C- at the top of the page. But that would just be rude. Also, these days, there seems to be a tendency, when dealing with the perpetrators of poo grammar, to get the blase response, “Well, you know what I meant, so what difference does it make?” Technically, they are correct. I DO understand what they meant, but let’s face it, any one of us would also understand a toddler who says, “Me want water.” One hopes that the toddler’s education and language skills, however, will progress beyond the baby-stage grammar.

    I’m not sure what it is in people like us who can’t seem to help but notice this stuff. It isn’t just perfectionism. With the increasing use of poor grammar and a constant barrage of entertainment that offers too much stupidity to be even marginally believable, it’s almost as if the purveyors are TRYING to dumb down everyone, a kind of brainwashing using a caustic designed to disintegrate the fabric of education and knowledge.

    One despairs.

    On the upside, it does afford people like us to kvetch, which, as we age, seems to be an art we enjoy honing I mean if we didn’t kvetch, we’d just be invisible.. And at least we pay attention to each other, even if we are preaching to the choir.

    As usual, I’ve gone on way too long, Just wanted you to know that it isn’t just you, Bob.

    Rose 😉

    • Rose

      I just reread my post and saw that I left the ‘r’ off in “poor grammar.” Of course, that works, too, but it should have been “poor.” In my defence, this keyboard on my mini laptop is increasingly annoying. If I type just a bit too lightly, the letters don’t show up. It all started with the “l” (el) and is spreading to other keys now. And it wouldn’t hurt if a proofread a few more times before hitting ‘send’.


      • Robert Buckley

        I caught your typo and laughed like hell. It was succinctly appropriate.

  3. Kate

    You are not alone, sir! As a former museum curator and lifelong lover of history, I CANNOT deal with the mistakes — the BLUNDERS– in film. Not just with costuming and other anachronisms (which are thankfully improving) but I have lost count on the number of otherwise enjoyable films that have been completely destroyed for me by the use of the word ‘Okay’. With the amount of money spent on sets, effects and other historical nuances they can’t afford a period language coach?? I don’t need ‘thees’ and ‘thous’, in film or writing unless we are dealing with Quakers, but it seems to be universally accepted that ‘okay’ has always been part of the language. Not so! It did not enter common use as a term of acceptance or agreement until the early 1900s. Like you I am constantly critiquing films, often in theatres to the embarrassment of my companions. This naturally extends to reading matter and yes I have made red-pen corrections in books if I manage to finish reading them at all. Admittedly I am not perfect and rely on a editor friend to proof my work. I still have hope that by the time anyone’s manuscript reaches publication– or screenplay hits the theatres– that their authors and writers have done a little homework as well.

    • Robert Buckley

      Don’t gert me started on historical anachronisms in films and TV. How about in dramas set in medieval times, or even ancient times, when a squad of archers is ordered to launch arrows, and ther commander always orders “Fire!” I don’t know what he might have said, but before the age of gunpowder, I sincerely doubt they said FIRE.

  4. Darnell

    It’s not just you. My inner critic rears its ugly head up when I try to read a book. I find I will wonder why the author used a certain word or sentence. I find I’m looking for the inciting incident in the movie I’m watching. Damn! It’s a curse that can’t be turned off.

    • Robert Buckley

      I take it you think there’s no help for us. Thanks for commenting.

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