Making mistakes in writing is necessary as part of the writing process. Just as in life, making mistakes is how we learn to do things better. Playwright George Bernard Shaw said: “Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time. A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” Remaining afraid to try because you may mess up is worse than never trying. The results from both are at minimum the same, except that one has a chance of success if he at least tries. If one does not play the lottery one has zero chance of winning. If one limits himself because of fear, one has zero chance of success.
“Writer’s Block” is very real and it is the writer’s worst nightmare. Afraid to place the “wrong” words on the page, we allow our muse to be held hostage by our fear. The story is up there lurking, trying to escape, but our fear of making a mistake keeps it trapped. John Gardner tells us: “In a good novel, the first five words must make you forget you’re reading.” Writers are told over and over they must “hook ” the reader immediately or …. or what? If we do not get those first five words right we fail? Consequently, we sit in front of our computers staring at the blank page waiting for the exact, correct words to spill from our thoughts to the keyboard. But there’s that fear again- holding us back, whispering in our ears, telling us we are sure to mess up so why bother.
The computer won’t blow up and no one is coming to carry us off to the writer’s jail for making mistakes. Just today my youngest son attempted to melt chocolate candies into a chocolate bar. As the chocolate cooled and he spread the cream cheese icing all over it he explained to me the steps he took and how excited he was to be cooking. Then, he took a bite and spit it out. At first he was upset with himself because he realized he had added too much oil to the pot; he had messed up! I asked him what he would do the next time differently and his face brightened up . He recited the steps he would take, all the same as those he just took, but this time he would add less oil. “And what do you think that would taste like?” I asked him. He admitted it would probably taste perfect. “Well,” I said. “How would you have known that if you didn’t mess it up the first time? Next time your chocolate bar will be that much better than it would have been if you never knew what to improve!” Needless to say, my son felt more elated and proud of himself than if he hadn’t made the mistake to begin with.
Mistakes are our greatest teachers. They teach us how to do better the next time. If we don’t make mistakes at our first attempt , the result may be okay enough but when we make a mistake and we learn from it, the second time has the chance to be perfect! The key is to learn from the mistake and to try again, not to never try at all or to give up. As in life, get those five words down. Yes, the first five words are important, just as John Gardner said, but we can always go back later and fix it. The point is to get something down on paper. To try! And if it is not right the second time, it may be the third or the fourth time. With each attempt a new lesson is learned. The key is to recognize each mistake, then correct each one while trying not to make the SAME mistake over and over. Make the attempt, recognize the mistake and take action to fix it. “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” So, what are you waiting for? Start making mistakes!