Why Writers Need To Make Way More Mistakes

6 Reasons You Need to Make Way More Writing Mistakes

Why Writers Need To Make Way More Mistakes

Writing mistakes are frustrating—especially when that mistake is novel-sized and cost you months of work before you realized it was, indeed, a mistake. Because frustration is a negative emotion, we usually do everything in our power to, first, avoid making writing mistakes and, then, when we inevitably do make them, distance ourselves from them as quickly as possible. But maybe that’s a mistake in itself.

Recently, I read a study suggesting that the messier someone’s desk, the more creative they are likely to be (which presents a problem for me). Some might suggest the messy desk, in itself, is actually a mistake. But perhaps in our pursuit of perfection, we are robbing ourselves of opportunities for even greater growth.

Writers put tremendous pressure upon themselves to be perfect. Search “writing perfectionism” and you’ll get page after page of helpful tips. It’s a popular topic because almost all writers suffer the fear, shame, and crippling rigidity of perfectionism at some point or another.

Which is ridiculous, since no writer nowhere at no point in time has, or ever will, write the perfect book. In short, all this self-flagellation is not only pointless, it’s even counter-productive.

Every Novel I’ve Written Was a Mistake

Granted, some of my novels have been bigger mistakes than others. But even the ones that garner great reviews and win awards are full of things I could have done better.

Sometimes I beat myself up over that. Sometimes I even cringe when I hear a reader say, “I’m so excited! I’m going to read one of your novels!” I have to resist the urge to make excuses for everything my 20/20 hindsight tells me is wrong with all my beautiful babies.

And that’s the good books!

We won’t even talk about the four novels I wrote before being published. We won’t talk about the three failed interim books that stumbled out of the gates, crippled as much by what I thought I knew about storytelling as what I didn’t.

But I am so thankful for all of those books, warts and all. If they were perfect—or, worse, if I somehow misguidedly believed they were perfect—I would miss out on so many amazing opportunities to improve my writing and to make better mistakes in my future books.

It’s time to stop beating yourself up for making writing mistakes. Scratch that. It’s time to stop hoping you won’t make writing mistakes. Instead, it’s time to embrace those mistakes as one of the most rewarding and advantageous parts of the entire writing process.

6 Ways to Make the Most of Your Writing Mistakes

Here are six positive mindsets to consciously pursue in making the most of your writing mistakes.

1. Realize Nothing Is Ever Wasted

This is one of my favorite sayings. Everything that happens in life, even the stuff we wouldn’t choose for ourselves, even the downright awful stuff, is a cause that creates an effect. Many of the most valuable lessons, in life as in writing, are those mined from the discomfort of mistakes.

When you put the time, effort, and thought into writing a story, that investment will always bear fruit—even if that fruit isn’t a spectacular story. The experience itself was worthwhile, and the lessons you’ll carry away from it will provide you with tools to move forward in proactive ways.

Takeaway:

When you complete a story and it’s, well, stinky, don’t count it as a waste of time or effort. Tap into gratitude for the experience and trust it will lead you into another worthwhile experience—and perhaps a better story down the road.

2. Don’t Beat Yourself Up for Writing Mistakes

No one will ever be harder on you than you are on yourself. Once you realize that, it’s surprising how easy it is to step out from under the cloud of blame and accept your mistakes as a natural and needed progression.

Please tell me what possible benefit could come of beating yourself up for your writing mistakes? So you didn’t write a perfect story. So what? Does telling yourself you’re a terrible writer, that you’ll never measure up, that you just wasted your life on this story—does any of that help you write a better story? Does it help you be a better person?

Absolutely not. So just stop. Think of your writer self as an eager, creative child. When that child doesn’t succeed, are you going to hold him in your arms—or spank him?

Takeaway:

Forgive yourself for your writing mistakes. Truly, they only matter to you. You’re not letting anyone else down, and when you think about it, you’re not letting yourself down either. Rejoice in the experience and move on.

3. Purposefully Give Yourself Space to Mess Up

Let’s hark back to this whole myth of perfectionism once more. It’s the bar all writers are aiming at: the perfect story. But it’s a myth, people! We’re trashing our self-esteem for nothing. Think of it this way: what’s the perfect time for a competitor in a race?

Zero seconds. That’s perfection.

It’s also impossible, and you don’t see Michael Phelps throwing a fit in the pool every time he fails to get there.

It’s time for writers to embrace the beauty of writing mistakes. You will never write a book that is perfect in your own eyes. And even if you did, it still wouldn’t be perfect in the eyes of others. And that’s okay. That’s awesome. That’s exciting!

We have a tendency to create standards for ourselves that are far too high. Writing your first book? Trust me, it’s not going to outsell Stephen King and become an instant classic. So don’t even go there. Determine realistic goals (and realize it’s okay if it takes you longer than you wanted to get there).

Takeaway:

Instead of striving for the impossible, consciously give yourself permission to mess up. When you do, the floodgates of creativity burst open in your mind. You may not even realize how much you’re holding yourself back by studiously attempting to avoid writing mistakes. When you throw your own false expectations out the window, you open yourself and your writing up to all kinds of previously unforeseen possibilities.

4. Accept Writing Mistakes as the Opportunity to Experiment

This is where writing mistakes get fun. As that unmitigated failure known as Albert Einstein once said:

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.

If you cling to your fear of mistakes, it will, without question, prevent you from reaching your full potential. That’s the irony of perfectionism: it doesn’t create perfection; it cripples it.

What would happen if, instead of trying avoid writing mistakes, you started trying to make them?

]Just think about that for a minute.

True, your logical brain is going to guide you away from most of the full-on foolhardy mistakes (like, say, purposeful spelling and grammar gaffes). But doesn’t the idea of making mistakes on purpose perk up your creative brain a little bit? Doesn’t it inspire a little swirl of color and excitement back there? What if you could write anything without worrying about the “rules”? What would happen? What would you write? Would it be better or worse than otherwise? Who knows? That’s the point.

Takeaway:

Stop thinking about mistakes as mistakes. Think of them, instead, as opportunities. They are opportunities to consider old problems in new ways, to come up with fascinating workarounds you would never have discovered otherwise, and to learn and grow into a better mastery of your craft.

5. Examine Your Writing Mistakes for Lessons to Move Forward

On the rare occasions when my writing has just worked, when a story has flown onto the page fully formed and nearly flawless, I rarely know why it worked. There was some magic ingredient at play, and darned if I can find it half the time, much less bottle it for future use.

Ah, but the mistakes. The moment I know enough to identify a mistake is the moment I have just made an inimitable new discovery about my craft and, usually, myself.

Perfection is impossible to analyze. It just… is. Sometimes it’s tougher to examine and break down a good story to figure out how it works than it is to take apart a less-than-good story and identify exactly why it didn’t work. Writing mistakes provide you with the opportunity to look through the cracks and explore the mechanics of storytelling. In her May/June 2016 Writer’s Digest article “Secrets to Success With Both Approaches,” Paula Manier observed:

Every mistake is just you “figuring out how to do it.”

Whenever you discover how to do something wrong, you’re one step closer to doing it right the next time. You’ll never make the discovery if you don’t first make the mistake.

Takeaway:

Don’t shy away from your writing mistakes. Examine everything you write for its weak points. Why didn’t this work? You might not have known the answer to that when you wrote the story, but the very fact that you know something is wrong means you will find the answer if you keep at it. Do this with other people’s stories as well. I am constantly breaking down books and movies, identifying what doesn’t work, so I can figure out how to do it right in my own writing.

6. Realize Sometimes the Only Path to Finding the Right Way Is to Explore the Wrong Ways First

Stories are not straightforward. Even if you were to follow every single writing rule to the letter, this does not mean you will get a story right the first time out of the gates. Every story is unique and requires a unique understanding from the writer.

This being so, sometimes the only path to finding the best way to right your story is to first be willing to explore all the wrong ways.  In a May 2016 interview with The Writer, award-winning author Tea Obreht explained:

Even work you consider to be your worst is good for something. Every effort teaches you about your desires and tendencies, or guides you towards some new possibility, or shuts the door on an avenue you mistakenly thought was the right one. It’s a trial and error game, and every line you write—especially those that never make it to the printed page—has value.

Even as you try to streamline your writing process, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to “get it right” the first time. Sometimes the best parts of our stories are buried deep within ourselves. Sometimes we have to do a lot of digging to unearth their true beauty. Does all the time and effort of these false starts qualify as a mistake? Of course not. Rather, it’s a necessary, downright invaluable part of the process.

Takeaway:

Embrace your writing mistakes, both large and small. Give yourself permission to think outside the box, to wander off road, to follow your instincts. Sometimes those instincts will be wrong, but you will always learn something worthwhile. And the more you follow your instincts down the wrong roads, the more you hone them into an awareness of the right roads.

_

When your surrender your fear of mistakes, the tremendous surge of possibilities can be overwhelming. Take it slow at first, but give yourself permission to swim in the deep water where true creativity lives, unshackled by the limited idea that making a mistake is the worst thing you could possibly do. It’s not. It might even be the best thing.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What is your knee-jerk reaction when you realize you’ve made writing mistakes? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland's monthly e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.
Email:
About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Well said! And there is no such thing as the perfect work of art (as is evidenced by the range of reviews anything that ever had mass-market success attracts).

    I am just thankful that I am not a neurosurgeon. My writing ‘mistakes’ are made in a low-stakes environment!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hah! Yes, for all that we writers often feel like our mistakes are earth-shattering, they’re really very small in the overall scope of things. At worst, an unhappy reader is out a few hours and a few dollars.

  2. Michael Saltar says:

    Wow. Thank you.

  3. Meg Brummer says:

    Welcome back! I hope you had a wonderful vacation 🙂

    I love this! I’m currently neck-deep in the muck of a mistake – a broken story that needs a LOT of reworking. I actually spent some time combing your site for how to fix a broken plot and when to just abandon it 🙂 I decided this one is one that can be saved, but it’s going to take some effort. The good news is that I’ve learned a LOT from the mistakes I’ve made this time around, so hopefully as I rebuild this story – and then the next one – it will just get better and better.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Go you! Mucked-up novels are always exasperating and exhausting, but they’re tremendous opportunities. Either you’ll pull it out and it’ll be great, or you’ll eventually move on and use what you’ve learned to write something even better. I’ve been in both situations, and they’re both vastly worthwhile in the long run.

      • And the bits you’ve chucked out because they didn’t fit, can always be used in other work where they work a lot better. Just change a name or two, and that idyllic interlude you wrote drops right in to provide the necessary time break your new story needed.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yes, I always recommend saving all deleted writings in another folder. Never know what will come in handy later!

  4. Lynden Wade says:

    Interesting! And I agree it’s easier to analyse what doesn’t work than what does.

  5. HonestScribe says:

    Wow, this is so empowering. Thank you.

    Usually, I know I’m getting ready to make a mistake when I am afraid of what I’m writing. Used to, I would hold back on those scenes or descriptions that scared me to write, and I have since learned that is a mistake. Whenever I’d hold back for fear of imperfection or offending some nebulous ideal reader, the writing became stilted and smelled of falsehood. One day, I decided to follow my frightening impulse to where it lead, and I was stunned at how much better it was. Now, the scenes that scare me to write the most are some of my favorites.

  6. Wow. Thank you so, so much for this. I’m currently in the middle of several wildly different writing projects, a major extracurricular, and school starting in a week… And I need to go back to the brainstorming stage with several aspects of my novel. I struggle with perfectionism (a lot), so this is very timely and helpful to remember I don’t have to (and more than likely won’t) get it right the first time. Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Something I’m learning is how much more fun life is when we just learn to go with the flow. Life happens anyway. We might as well enjoy the ride!

  7. YES!! I LOVE this!!! I find that so many writers take everything SO seriously, to the point where they refuse to hit publish. It took me a long time to get over that, especially with my novel, but I’m so glad that I finally did. Even if I look back and know I could’ve done better.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      There’s a quote from an actor (actually, probably every actor ever) about how acting is really such a crazy thing. The public adores it, and, yet, when you think about it, it is pretty silly in a lot of ways. (Not dissing actors; I love what they do.) When you think about it, writing fiction is kinda like that too. To us, what we’re doing sometimes seems like the most important mountain we’ll every climb. And that’s not *un*true, but when we back up a step, we realize how inconsequential our mistakes really are in the overall scope of things.

  8. If I’m being completely honest, I am a recovering “fixer”. I won’t even say the “p” word because I’ve tried to distance myself from that unattainable goal. When I notice something is wrong, my first instinct is to go back and fix it – whether it’s a spelling error, a plot hole, or just a crummy line of dialogue.

    But, I have gotten better, and it all rests in the mental approach to not only accepting, but embracing mistakes as you have so “perfectly” outlined in this brilliant post!

    I’ve found myself wandering off the well trodden path, writing into deep, dark holes filled with mystery, weirdness, and seriously uncomfortable writer feelings that make me feel like twitching at times 😉 And, it has been wonderful. When I realize that no one needs to see my experiments, it gives me the opportunity to really cut loose and do some wild and crazy things with my writing.

    Those stories and that writing may never see the light of day, but it lights up something inside me, and that is the most important thing!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Occasionally telling myself that something I’m writing will never be seen by anyone but me is one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done. And, usually, the piece I write with that mindset ends up being something I’m especially proud to share with others.

  9. I always say the first draft is never the final draft. It’s a way to get the ideas out of your head and onto paper or a computer screen. When it’s out of your head, it’s more real. It’s something you can look at and work with. I put my first draft aside for about a month. When I came back to it, I wondered in some places, “Why did I write that? That doesn’t make sense.” It was almost a different work. The same thing with beta readers. They can help out, because they have an outside perspective. As for the finished work being a mistake, that can happen. Every writer, director, or actor has at least 1 project they wish they’d never done. Maybe they did it for the money. Maybe they were on deadline and had to turn something in. The point is, you’re not alone. Accept that it’s out there, learn what you can from it, and move on.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is a great mindset. There is zero point in beating ourselves for making mistakes. They’re just a part of the process. If we accept them, hold them, turn them to the light, work on them patiently, they become rewarding in their own right, as well as a necessary stepping stone toward a better end product.

  10. I absolutely love every word of this post. I often find that I, too, write scared, as HonestScribe says in their comment, but it’s often just so much better that way.

    I had to completely rewrite the ending of a book coming out in December, and my gosh, did that scare me. I was afraid of letting go of my old ending, afraid of having to move quickly through it. But I gave it a few days of rest and after coming back to it with fresh eyes, I can already see a big difference in the edited version I’d written before (finished last year) and the rewritten version I’d hammered out in the space of a few weeks (these past couple of months).

    My words were tighter and more descriptive, my antagonist’s voice resounded with honesty and was so much truer to form than his old voice I’d been trying to force on him, and one of my minor characters blossomed into so much more than what she had been before. She deserved that blossoming, and so did my antagonist, and if I hadn’t written scared and just tried to get the words on the page, that would have never happened.

    Honestly, I knew I didn’t have time to sit there and beat my head against the keyboard, waiting for perfection. I had to at least strive for it, and that meant putting one word after another, and doing it whether or not I felt like it or even liked what I was writing. A deadline sure does help move things along in that regard. 😉

    Regardless, I want to write like that all the time, embracing the downs as well as the ups, and keeping in mind my own personal motto that I’ve developed over a decade of learning to be a writer: “It’s not as hopeless as I thought.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      One of the best tricks I’ve imposed on myself is “forward impetus.” I start writing and I keep writing, as fast as I can. I don’t stop for my mistakes–and the delicious irony is that this full-throttle approach (backed by a heavy-duty outline, of course) serves me far better than nitpicking at every word.

  11. In my quest to become a plotter rather than a pantster, I found myself shedding all of the things that made me so productive. The scraps of paper upon which I’d scribbled ideas. The printed out emails from people/experts who I’d approached to ask research questions and then stapled to the inside of my notebook. The samples of flowers I’d picked from an environment and pressed into my notebook so I could remember them easily. Even dirt samples I collected and stored in zip lock bags so I could recall the smells of a place….

    The list goes on and on. I realized that I’m never going to be the disciplined writer that I believed that I should be. And I’ve realized that is completely okay. Because these bower bird tendencies of mine serve not just the story I’m working on presently but they have potential in future stories.

    I’ve found a place somewhere in between plotting and pantsing. Don’t aske where it is though. *It’s* still a work in progress.

    (Oh!! And welcome home K.M.!! – I got all excited when I saw your email in my inbox. I’ve missed you!)

    • Your process sounds so beautifully creative, Dean! I’m more of a plotter by nature but sometimes I get carried away in the *process* so much that I lose the beauty and spontaneity of inspirations like that, even simple things like taking a minute to stare out my window at the sunset or really making note of how dark and bitter and rich my coffee tastes in the morning. Or even just roughing out a sketch of a character and, instead of being pleased with what little beauty my non-artist hand can bring to my character, criticizing it and making myself put away the Crayola markers and crayons.

      A lot of times I have to tell myself it’s more important to jot notes in whatever notebook I can find, to fill the margins with parenthetical information, to doodle my character’s outfit on the back of a page, than not to do it at all and confine myself to cold, hard rules that I won’t let myself break. Because a lot of times that beautiful, random creativity is just the ticket to get me through a hard piece or section of my story.

      All that said, I think it’s so important not to lose those bits of “messiness” that make the creative life so beautiful. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Couldn’t agree with this more. Creativity is an evolution, and it’s a very personal evolution. The necessary habits and conditions tend to differ a little from person to person. What works for me won’t always work for you, and vice versa. And that’s fine–as long as we all find something does indeed work.

  12. robert easterbrook says:

    1. poke myself in the eye with a pointy stick;
    2. blame you 😉
    3. blame the keyboard;
    4. blame the music;
    5. blame the cat;
    6. blame my barista.
    🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I am extremely honored to be included in this prestigious list alongside your cat and your barista. 😉

  13. Andrewiswriting says:

    It’s funny you mention Stephen King, I’ve just finished one of his, and had that combined awe, envy, self-doubt in reaction to his stuff.

    Of course, he’s 55 books and a bunch of short stories and articles in, while I’m releasing my first novel into the wild in a few weeks’ time…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      And, to be fair, he’s written some less than perfect stuff in his time too. 😉

      • JC Martell says:

        I just finished reading 11/22/63, and was extremely disappointed. I’m ashamed to say that his “mistakes” gave me encouragement. Maybe there is a value in mistakes that you missed – they can make someone else feel better about their writing. 🙂

        Great post. Glad to see you back – missed your happy face and positive attitude!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I enjoyed that one, but I agree, it has its weaknesses. King is one of those writers who is just so brilliant in some areas that we forgive the areas where he’s not.

  14. You’re back! We must be starved from excellent writing advice such as this no longer! Oh, and are you really telling me I can and must stop obsessing over my mistakes? It will feel so sinful…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, I’m back! 🙂

      As for writing mistakes, something I’ve been learning in my own life is that the idea that we’re supposed to be “fighters” often doesn’t mesh too well with surrendering to centeredness. Goes for writing too! We can let go and we don’t have to feel guilty about it.

  15. I read a review the other day of a character that was written with complexity and nuance, so masterfully done that it drew them into the story so completely as to lose sight of stereotype (what such a character has typically done before).

    I sit back, looking at my folders: loosely connected dots and known characters and scenes and realize I can’t theme or plot, can’t arc (scene or character), can’t dialog or subtext, can’t set the scene or setting. I have a story but can’t seem to figure out how to tell it…

    On the plus side, I have a messy desk. So the rest should be cake! (Also, remind myself that JK Rowling probably didn’t set out to out write Stephen King, she just wanted to tell a story.)

    Oh and Einstein? Cosmological constant… pfft! (loser!) 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sometimes the best writing is the writing the author doesn’t even realize he’s doing “right.” You just have to have the guts to throw it all out there on the page. It’s like pasta. The good stuff sticks to the wall. 🙂

      • Will have to try that with lasagna! 😉

        I’m pretty comfortable in the kitchen so will try to think of writing in the same way, looking to craft a story that’s layered, rich and flavorful.

  16. An interesting post, Katie… and thankfully no comic book ‘superheroes’ (sorry, I couldn’t resist.).
    As you so rightly say, mistakes not only sharpen us up, but give us opportunities.

    I committed the cardinal sin of relying on ‘accepted knowledge’ or ‘perceived belief’ and didn’t check some of the details carefully enough.

    A test reader of one of my novels pulled me up on a minor detail in my plot regarding Muslims’ behaviour and beliefs (in the UK). – An Imam had been one of a serial killer’s victims, but I’d been sloppy about the details of the man’s lifestyle.
    This criticism caused me to do a little more research about Islam, and the way it’s practised, so that I could fine tune my details – even though it was only a minor part of the story.

    Reading about the oddities of the religion (to me all religious beliefs seem odd, but life’s a rich tapestry and everyone should be free to believe what they want, as long as that freedom isn’t abused.) and more importantly, reading about the various misconceptions of the religion led me to the theme for another novel in the series. (Now completed.)

    Of course, this time I’ve checked my facts, because if the facts aren’t right, they’ll never believe the fiction.

    Keep at it. All advice is worthwhile… it’s up to the reader whether it’s appropriate to them… and no one’s ever too experienced, or too ‘good’, to learn from others.

  17. Wow, this post came at just the right time for me! I was beating myself up yesterday for all the stuff I feel like I’m doing wrong in my current novel. (I think reading writing advice on the internet can be dangerous sometimes! So much stuff out there, and some of it is very contradictory.) This makes me feel better already. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Totally agree about writing advice sometimes being potentially dangerous. One can definitely over imbibe! It’s best to take it one step at a time sometimes.

  18. Sunny V Shine says:

    Thanks Katie!
    This is one of those things that I (and I’m probably not the only one) need to remind myself of every so often when I start to get discouraged.

    It kind of reminds me of my favorite song to write to –Never Once by One Sonic Society. It’s very much Christian song so it wouldn’t work for everyone, but it greatly encourages me to keep going even when the going gets tuff… even when I feel like a complete failure.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Success and failure are not absolutes. Largely, they’re nothing more than perspectives. One person’s failure is another person’s success, and vice versa. It’s useful to keep that in mind. Our feelings of failure are usually extremely subjective.

  19. Give yourself permission to fail.

    I read this somewhere when I was once searching for solutions to my relentless self-loathing. You’re absolutely right – and not just in terms of writing.

    You know what, the more I read this blog, the more I realize that these lessons you teach relate to all aspects of life far more than it would seem at the surface. I’ve learned more about myself (new things, relating things to recent lessons I’ve learned, or old things that have always been traits of my very nature) reading this blog for a year or two than anywhere else in my day to day life – perhaps with the exception of a few very deep times of soul searching and venting. If you took my current self and stood me beside who I was 3 or 4 years ago, and had a conversation with both of us, there’s no way you would think we were the same person – not even in the case of a parallel universe. I’ve become strong – like I’m 60 feet tall.

    Seriously, Katie. Say what you will about perfection in itself – I think it’s a misunderstood entity. If perfection as we define it doesn’t exist anywhere, then how can we define it without it’s definition being… well, perfect? I think we should redefine perfection as an entity of perspective and relativity. Perfection is only attainable as a matter of opinion – not of fact. There are things in life that I wouldn’t have any other way – and I bet you feel the same way, as you should. Are those things not then perfect to me, or to you?

    People strive for perfection in many ways. To get that bit of perspective, which is how I define perfection, maybe it would help to have your mind take a step forward out of your body, turn around and look back at yourself. Look at yourself as a person who does what you do, including all the mistakes and the learning that comes with it. Just stand there for a moment, outside yourself. Ask yourself: “Would I have you any other way?”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Amen! I totally agree with this. Perfection is misunderstood, misapplied, and, as an infinite concept, totally unreachable within our finite existences. It’s time for a new approach.

      • It’s another misconception brought on by society, and it saddens me to think about how many people are miserable because they just look in a mirror and think of all the things they would change – and all the people who reflect on things they’ve done or haven’t done, said or haven’t said, and regret.

        Striving to reach goals is good, but not being there yet absolutely DOES NOT take away from who you currently are – who anybody currently is. This is a massive lesson that I have come to learn. This lesson is a direct reflection of who I have become.

        I can say now, finally after all these years of miserable self doubt and loathing, that I can park my mind beyond my body, look back at myself, and not only ask myself but tell myself with utter conviction: “I would not have you any other way.” Because I am learning, and I love it. I have reached certain goals, and yet I am still striving for more. And I love it.

        It’s not just your novels that present lessons to be learned and inspirations for constructive self-reflection. Thank you for everything that you do. I wouldn’t have you any other way.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          That’s fabulous! I’m incredibly happy to hear you’re at this point in your personal journey. I’m sure it’s affecting your writing in fantastic ways as well. 🙂

  20. This is such a timely post, for me in particular! Only 2 days ago I realized that one of the foundational ideas I was building my story on had to be scrapped in its entirety. It was (and still is) rough. So this was really good for me to hear. Thank you! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Those realizations are never fun. They’re hard. But just remember they’re always a step in the right direction. Much better to figure it out than to keep going down the wrong road.

  21. With an upcoming story, I’ve realized that I’ve got to let it all go and just write the story. All the planning I’ve tried to do simply won’t give me everything I need, and I’ve done all kinds of character works (interviews, etc), and I still don’t have an entire grip on my protagonist. I need to just go and write the story cold, and learn everything through actually writing it. It ought to be interesting, and I hope somewhat fun. 😉

    • Jon Carl Lewis says:

      Funny, but I’ve come to the same conclusion with a project of mine. I find that when I write, as opposed to sit and brood about why things aren’t working, then new stuff comes up that I can use somehow.

      Thanks for this article KM. It really helps.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m sure it will be fun! Letting go almost always is.

  22. CM Friesen says:

    I’ve struggled a great deal with perfectionism, haha. I have to constantly remind myself while writing that I can go back and fix everything I screwed up in editing. Which I’m very close to; almost done with my second draft and then I can go through and edit the hell out of it.
    I’ve recently been writing from my smartphone, since I’ve found it less tempting to edit on, but it’s not as much of a pain as longhand. And I can lie around in bed all day while getting work done, lol.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I have an Alpha NeoSmart, which is a a word-processor-only laptop with a tiny screen. I really haven’t used it much yet, but I think it’s a fabulous idea for both mobility and eliminating distractions.

      • CM Friesen says:

        I think it’s not so much for me about mobility and elliminating distractions as it is about making the writing process feel more… I suppose ‘casual’ is the most accurate word I can think of. Like that it’s not something I have to get up, dressed and professional for. And thus extremely perfectionistic and butthurt about. It’s easy for me to say I’ll write after I rest and get out of bed in the morning, and then forget after I do get up. But with writing on my phone that’s always on and always right next to me, I have no excuse. It makes writing about as easy as texting a friend.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          We hear over and over again the importance of making writing a job if we’re serious about being professional. But there definitely is a balance. Life withers when we take it too seriously.

  23. Rob Johnson says:

    Good stuff, KM!

    I envy writers like Larry Block who seldom have to wander through more than two drafts to reach their destination. After five or six drafts (on an exceptional effort), I’m still two blocks over and three down from where I wanted to go.

    However, like you said – and it’s important to internalize – this is not wasted effort. All your writing counts. Even the not great stuff is part of the journey. Practice makes perfect and ALL your writing counts towards that first NYT Bestseller, even the stuff left in the Windows wastebasket 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think it is human nature for us to always be looking ahead to the next part of the process, wishing we were there instead of here. But every part of the writing process brings its own joys and rewards. If we can stay grounded in the moment, we can avoid having to beat ourselves up for not moving on “fast enough.”

  24. This article reminds me of a conversation we had about that Pixar book. I think we both agree their approach (as a company) to creativity is unrivaled.
    It’s really no wonder they are able to get to brilliant stuff — they CONSIDER the bad stuff, the “failures.” As you stated Paula Manier put it: “every mistake is just you figuring out how to do it.” Not more, not less, just the process of learning.
    I like your point about how we beat ourselves up. Why? Why are we such perfectionists? Since when did we believe we could produce perfection? If God doesn’t expect perfection from us, why do we ourselves?
    I think we need to give ourselves more grace and just accept we are learning a craft that takes years and years of dedication and work. If we do, we *will* improve, we *will* get better, that’s a fact.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      There comes a certain point where I think we almost make an idol of perfectionism. We refuse to accept God’s acceptance and forgiveness of our flaws on His terms and instead feel we’re somehow “better” because we’re imposing our own rigid expectations as black-and-white rules in our lives. Even a pursuit of good things can become a bad thing when taken to an extreme.

      • Oh, yes… I totally agree with that.
        Like you stated, perfectionism *does* become an idol. And it’s such an easy thing to do!
        As much as I love to watch movies and tv that are written so well and books, etc., it’s also refreshing to know that because we aren’t perfect, that neither will our own work be perfect. Sometimes I can ‘forgive’ a bad choice when it comes to tv writing knowing that overall it’s enjoyable, and that the writers are making, for the most part, interesting and good choices.
        This post was a good reminder that we can still be happy even knowing we aren’t perfect.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yes, honestly, I think readers and viewers can be way too hard on other storytellers (and I’m pointing at myself here as much as anyone). As writers ourselves, we, of all people, should understand how elusive perfection is and how easy it is to make the wrong call on occasion, because we lack subjectivity or desire to experiment.

  25. ES Rollett says:

    Yes, but some mistakes can be seriously embarrassing! Recently, an irate reviewer pointed out that in my book God parted the seas for Moses not Joseph. Joseph? How could I have got it wrong? I was shocked. Surely I knew the story of Moses and the Red Sea? I did! But when I went to the published version of my book, I saw that God had indeed parted the seas for a man named Joseph!

    So what went wrong? On checking an earlier version of my ms, I was relieved to see that I had got the name Moses correct. Then I remembered that the King (it’s a historical novel) had a Jewish physician named Moses who converted to Christianity and changed his name to Joseph.

    In some history books I researched, I found the King had a physician named Moses and an astronomer named Joseph. Which story was the true? While writing, I dithered between versions. In the end I opted to have my physician convert and change his name. At some point, then, until I got the dates right, all my Moses became Josephs. And some of them stayed that way. Handy little tool that ‘Find and Replace’!!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Will Van Stone, Jr., discusses what X-Men can teach about storytelling, K.M. Weiland explores 6 reasons we need to make way more writing mistakes, and Chuck Wendig shares 5 things he learned writing […]

  2. […] recent blog by K.M. Weiland clarified my thinking on […]

Speak Your Mind

*