High Standards or Nitpicking?

There’s a fine line between wanting to do your best and being overly-concerned with tiny details.

I was particularly determined to get a high mark in one Creative Writing assignment; I didn’t want to leave a single stone unturned (oops, my tutor wouldn’t have liked that cliché). Before that point in my course I had written two assignments, and had received a higher mark for the radio-play script than for the short story. For the third assignment I could choose either medium.

Commonsense, and hints from the tutor, pushed me in the direction of script-writing, but I wanted to write a short story and I decided to go with my instinct. I set out to prove that I could get a higher mark for short-story writing.

It may sound like negative motivation, but I quickly fell in love with the writing process itself, including the redrafting, and the story I was telling. I shaped the story, developed the characters and didn’t want to let it go. I got down to the tiny-detail stage of editing, where it became slightly obsessive.

One example of this was whether I should write ‘t-shirt’ or ‘T-shirt.’ It seemed obvious at first glance: it’s T-shirt, because the capital letter is presumably the shape from which the shirt takes its name. Wikipedia agrees. Then again, when I googled ‘t-shirt’ I found it’s just as popular – perhaps the lower-case ‘t’ is in such common usage that it’s acceptable.

Having tried both versions in my story, and briefly considered ‘tee shirt’ (which would have solved the problem if I’d liked it), I decided that ‘T-shirt’ spoilt the look of the sentence. So ‘t-shirt’ it was.

I received my highest Creative Writing mark for that story, due to the hard work and careful editing. I was delighted – obviously the majority of my effort had paid off. But in his marking my tutor changed ‘t-shirt’ to ‘T-shirt’. It made me laugh. I joked with my family that I should let him know how much thought I’d given it before coming to the ‘wrong’ conclusion!

So when does the nitpicking become too much? Possibly when you can’t win whatever you do! Or, as some might argue, a little while before that point…

Speaking of which, I’ve just spent a few minutes googling whether it’s ‘nitpicking’ or ‘nit-picking’. Wait, is it ‘googling’ or ‘Googling’? Right, I need to get a life.

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