Does Professionalism Have to Include Perfection?

If you make a mistake as a writer, does that automatically mean you lack professionalism?

I’ve been thinking a lot about professionalism and perfection as a writer this week. My first Amazon review is a one-star review of my book’s listing description, and not of my actual book. There is a mistake in the listing description, and it is being fixed. The reviewer called into question my “credibility,” implying that a mistake is grounds to dismiss years of experience.

This review also has me thinking about what constitutes professionalism. As a writer, do you always have to be perfect in order to be considered a credible professional?

Typos, Mistakes, and Omissions

The reality, I realized after indulging in a major pity party earlier this week, is that we all mistakes. I daresay even my detractors occasionally commit mistakes. (Perhaps not, though. It’s possible that my reviewer is, in fact, the first perfect person to grace us since Jesus Christ walked the earth.) I see typos all the time in books. There are mistakes in pieces written by “real” journalists on sites like The Wall Street Journal and Forbes.

There’s a reason that writers have editors. Most of us writers know what we meant to say. As a result, even when proofreading for the third or fourth time, it’s possible to miss things that jump out to editors.

Of course, because editors are human as well, sometimes they miss things, too. Even having your work edited by someone else is no guarantee that it will be completely error-free.

I Used to Be Pretty Judgy

In my earlier days, before I was so busy, I used to be nit-picky, too. In my mind, I disparaged the mistakes, typos, and omissions of others. However, as the sheer number of words I wrote went up, I caught my own mistakes — sometimes after “publish” had been hit — even after proofreading. I write thousands of words each day. Some of them are bound to have mistakes.

Now I am aware that, no matter how much practice and training I have, and no matter how hard I try, perfection is not likely all the time. I might achieve perfection by working for hours on a single piece, but that’s not a very efficient way to earn a living. And even after you look over everything several times with your book listing, sometimes you’ve looked at it so much and you know what should be there, that your brain just fills it in for you.

Obviously, there is a difference between a piece with a couple of typos and something completely riddled with errors and poor usage. But I’m starting to think that perfection isn’t needed for professionalism or credibility. Yes, as a writer it’s important for me to be able to get my ideas across and I have to be able to articulate them in a way that doesn’t completely distract from the reader experience.

But sometimes I’m going to make mistakes. I’ll try to find them and fix them, but I’ll probably miss a few. And I’ve decided that it’s probably ok. I don’t have enough time in my life to try and please another imperfect human being by being absolutely perfect all the time.

What do you think? Does a typo, omission or mistake automatically destroy someone’s credibility and claim to professionalism?

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