The Wrath of the Meticulous Eye: A Writer’s Worry

At one point or another, writing anxiety seems to plague writers of all skill levels. In a blog post for the UW-Madison Writing Center, David Aitchison made a truthful observation about the first-time student visitors: they’re usually anxious! Aitchison went on to empathize with students’ “daunting” feelings:

Are even the most confident writers anxious? Probably.

To answer this question: tutors, students — anyone who crafts a sentence on the web — becomes vulnerable to critique from The Meticulous Eye of a “complete stranger,” the eye that triggers anxiety in writers of all skill levels.

Take me, for example. I’m a Sweetland Writing Tutor and an English major, but submitting my writing for review still seems daunting. While writing this blog post, I dreaded the response of an avid blogger with a Meticulous Eye for quality content. If you’ve read this hilariously critical blog about Stephanie Meyer’s prose in the Twilight series, then you know what I mean. I have day-mares about stumbling upon another Tumblr with my post annotated like this:

I’d like to think I have a sense of humor, but guilt seeps in while I chuckle at such comments. Maybe my guilt stems from anxieties that my writing would be worthy of a similar critique. Or, maybe my guilt stems from having read the Twilight series. Either way, my heart goes out to Stephanie Meyer and anyone who’s received their term paper covered in layers of red ink.

Like Mrs. Stephanie Meyer, I’m guilty of distributing “rough-draft-quality” writing. Before I began constantly E-mailing and texting from my Blackberry, I ofted meticulously drafted each message. I even read my E-mails aloud before sending them. When I caught a serious type-o or grammatical snag, my breathing halted. My inner-monologue screeched, “OHMIGAWD-WAS-I-CONCIOUS-WHEN-I-WROTE-THAT?”A chilling grip of anxiety closed around my chest. My heart rate didn’t settle until I corrected the near-fatal error. But maybe I took writing a little too seriously.

Fast forward to yesterday, post-blackberry era. In a caffeine-deprived stupor, I sent a friend a text message that read:

(248) Yeah my class starts thursday and I’m still in denile
(248) By denile I meant the river not the state of mine.

I received a polite “haha” from my interlocutor, then gave up making jokes out of my written incompetence. I’ve never been an award-winning speller, but I really do know how to spell D-E-N-I-A-L… and I don’t usually butcher english idioms worse than Bravo’s Housewives of New Jersey! But there’s proof even English majors have their off-moments…

My point is: English majors, writing tutors, and even professional multi-million dollar writers make mistakes that the Meticulous Eye may catch. That’s why writers learn to peer-review, why publishers hire Copy Editors, why Microsoft Word offers Spell Check.

Students needn’t feel nervous coming to the writing center, because tutors read with a Meticulous Eye in order to support them: to reveal what’s working for the paper, to see what isn’t, and to help writers make their own improvements. Students train their Meticulous Eyes throughout the tutoring process, and leave the writing center knowing the Meticulous Eye and the Evil Eye are not one in the same.

So remember, Meticulous Readers: critique kindly, because it’s much easier to spot an error in someone else’s writing than in your own. Writers: take a deep breath after your final proof-read, relax and remember that your audience may read with a Meticulous Eye – but not an Evil one!

Note: if your Meticulous Eye caught something in this blog post, please leave a comment. Critiques are welcome!