The Law of Fumble Fingers
I have a certain number of posts in draft form at any time. For instance, currently there are 32 draft posts sitting in my WordPress queue. They’re in draft form for a number of reasons. Sometimes an idea comes to me that I need to write down now before it goes away, but I’m not completely sure what conclusion I want to draw from the anecdote or observation. This is similar to my fiction writing where I have several dozen unfinished stories sitting on the hard disk at any time. I just haven’t figured out how most of them end, yet. Then there are some where I know the ending, but I haven’t figured out how to get to that ending.
And then there are some where I have the beginning, and the middle, and an ending all there. it reads as a complete essay or short story, but I’m not happy with it. In the case of blog posts, it’s usually that the topic is particularly challenging, emotionally. I have one that I finished a long time ago about one of my relatives who was coerced by parents into going into ex-gay therapy, for instance. It is something that happened, it’s something I witnessed, I am an active participant in several parts of the narrative, it is an incident that is used against me by other relatives from time to time, and it’s something that I believe illustrates a very important point about one way that non-conforming people are harmed in our society.
Even though I am involved in several stages of the story, ultimately it isn’t my story. And many of the participants are family members who I am quite certain wouldn’t be happy for me to publish my version of the story. So at different times I’ve written various disclaimers, then decided that a disclaimer is redundant. Or I’ve tried to make it even more anonymous than it is (I never mention anyone’s real name in any written version). Except when I completely anonymize it, much of the emotional punch is lost. And so the revise and set aside cycle continues.
There’s another one, which I accidentally published for about a minute just this morning, where I write about my personal experience of being date raped. The subject of date rape is a complicated, messy, and uncomfortable topic for many people, myself included. So, while that one has been completed for a long time, I’m not completely ready to publish it, yet. Instead, I open it up from time to time, re-read it, correct a typo or two, or rephrase a sentence (or an entire paragraph), and save it. Except I clicked the wrong button, so for a minute it was out there on the network, and more embarrassing, because I had clicked the “publish” button, email notices were sent out to people who follow the blog.
Then there are the updates after publishing. I have a couple of friends who will email me if they notice a particularly egregious typo in a post. So I’ll fix those when they’re pointed out.
But even before then, I usually demonstrate Gaiman’s First Law whenever I publish a post:
“Picking up your first copy of a book you wrote, if there’s one typo, it will be on the page that your new book falls open to the first time you pick it up.” – Neil Gaiman
In the case of blog postings, the first time I look at my own published post after I post it, even if all I’m intending to go immediately to the administration section for something unrelated, my eyes will fall on a typo in the just-published post. So I click edit and try to find it. I usually find one other other while I’m fixing it. I click update as soon as I fix those, and then I usually decide to re-read the whole thing one more time. During which point I almost always find several more mistakes.
That latter is just a manifestation of Einsohn’s Law (sometimes also referred to as the Law of Copy Editing or the Law of Proofreading):
“No amount of proofreading can uncover all the errors in a set of proofs.” – Amy Einshon
There is also the phenomenon of creating a new or worse mistake when you go in to fix an existing mistake. Which is probably a major contributing factor to Einsohn’s law. If abstracted out far enough, we wind up at the Third Law of Thermodynamics:
“It is impossible for any process, no matter how idealized, to reduce the entropy of a system to its zero point value in a finite number of operations.”
If that’s just gobbledegook to you, just think of entropy as a scientific way of measuring disorder in a system, and it will get you close enough for our purposes.
In other words, sometimes we just have to remember that it is impossible to achieve perfection in the real world. If you don’t want to drive yourself insane, you must learn to accept mistakes.