Weekend Edition: Love Your Mistakes Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

 

It’s All Part of the Process

Wise Owl says, "There are no mistakes (only happy accidents)!" (Lovely altar to mistakes compliments of my sweet and creative friend Kristin Cutaia)

Wise Owl says, “There are no mistakes (just happy accidents)!” (Image of a lovely “altar to mistakes” compliments of my sweet and creative neighbor, Kristin Cutaia)

Earlier this week, my friend Emma (fellow writer, mama, and – unlike me – a woman with a very chic style) shared an excerpt from an interview with Mike Patton of the band Faith No More. I am not cool enough to be an aficionado about Faith No More, but I loved the theme of the sound byte Emma shared: the value of making mistakes. Here’s a snippet:

But all the mistakes are little tiny little technical things, anyway, like, I shouldn’t have sung that that way, or, Oh, I was flat there. It’s not like, Oh, I shouldn’t have made this record. Because I feel like even if maybe I don’t like a particular record, it was a step in the process and I must have learned something from it. I think that’s more of a mature viewpoint. If you’d asked me that ten years ago, I’d have gone, “Oh, this record sucks and that’s bullshit,” but it all had to happen.

It all had to happen.

We forget that sometimes. We read – humbled, awed, and perhaps a little bit green – the inspiring (and somewhat intimidating) work of a writer we admire, and we forget what went into making it what it is. She wasn’t born with the ability to make that kind of art. She had to make a lot of mistakes to hone her craft. She had to try and fail and learn, and try and fail and learn again.

It’s all part of the process.

Whether you’re striving for brilliance or mere competence, you have to go through being clueless, inept, and moderately capable to get there. There are no shortcuts.

You have to learn you way to the top, one screw up at a time.

In my post about how to tell if you’re a real writer, I commented on the ludicrous demands our culture places on people who want to call themselves “Writer.” In most cases, simply practicing a thing – running, yoga, gardening – is enough to earn you the right to call yourself by that title: runner, yogi, gardener. Not so with writing (or, any other art for that matter). Likewise, there is something in our collective consciousness that tries to convince us of the infallibility of the “real” artist. Some primal part of our id wants us to believe that the road to literary greatness bypasses inadequacy via some kind of magical detour. Steven Pressfield would probably name this horrific misconception Resistance.

Whatever it’s name may be, you need to get rid of it.

We acquire skills through learning. Learning, by its nature, requires failure. Think about any skill you’ve learned – walking, talking, reading, baking a cake, tying your shoes, driving a car, dancing the waltz. Were you perfect the first time you tried? Of course not. You stumbled and tripped over your own feet and your partner’s toes. You mispronounced words, ground the gears, and watched – heart broken – as the perfect, golden arc of your faerie cake caved in on itself.

You made mistakes.

And, more importantly, you learned from them.

There is nothing like learning by doing. Being in the trenches trumps theory. Every. Single. Time. We study to gain knowledge, but we must practice in order to gain experience. And, only through experience can we ever hope to achieve mastery. Who would you want by your side if you were heading out for a week in the jungle – the guy who has read a thousand books on the jungle ecosystem and learned enough to earn himself a PhD in environmental science, or the gal who has bushwhacked her way through the heart of the tropical forest a dozen times and has already experienced torrential downpours, snake bites, and the hospitality of the indigenous people?

That’s right. You want the person who has “been there and done that,” the person with hard-won experience that I can guarantee you was riddled with mistakes and failures.

Don’t apologize for your mistakes. Welcome them. They are proof that you are making progress, that you have stepped outside the confines of your comfort zone. That you are growing. You practice and you fail and you learn from that failure, so that you can do better next time. You learn to see what works, and what doesn’t. You learn to understand not only where you went wrong, but why. You start to get your head around what makes a story tick because you’ve taken so many apart in order to figure out what was missing.

Making mistakes is also a great way to lighten up a little already. Never take yourself too seriously. Don’t just sulkily accept that you’re going to make a mess of things. Revel in it. Go into the process with your eyes wide open and your heart filled with a sense of adventure. Think of all the amazing things you’re going to learn along the way! Last fall I took a Fiction I class at the Grub Street Writers Center. To help us learn about how to write strong dialog, our super smart and warmly encouraging teacher (the fabulous KL Pereira) had us write a scene that included all the worst dialog gaffes in the book. We had to try and cram every dialog-related transgression we knew into that one scene: stilted language, filler, exposition, naming characters, overuse and variation of modifiers, too much faithfulness to speech (um, y’know, like), dialect exaggeration, excessive direct address, etc. The exercise was fun, and it drove home the lesson she was trying to teach in a way that simply reading about the mistake could never do.

In addition to helping us learn, mistakes provide fertile ground for new discoveries. Many of our best-known scientific advancements are attributed to happy accidents – things that happened while a scientist was “playing around” with an idea. When we practice writing in a way that embraces the possibility of making mistakes, we open ourselves up to a world of previously inaccessible opportunities. Instead of letting fear of failure keep our creative feet glued to the straight and narrow path, we can step off into the wilderness of creativity and imagination. When we set our muse free to explore and experiment, there’s no limit to what can happen.

But, no matter what happens, regret nothing.

Remember, mistakes are part of the process.

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What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

One of the images from my nature-centric Instagram account

One of the images from my nature-centric Instagram account

I am repeatedly amazed by how much I don’t know about all the different writing markets out there. Though I have mentioned the power of niche markets before, sometimes life gets so busy that I forget to apply what I’ve learned to my own career development. Thankfully, I have friends who remind me.

This past week, I had the pleasure of a phone chat with my friend, YiShun Lai. In addition to being a talented writer, mindful philanthropist/volunteer, and sharp wit, YiShin is also a generous human being who gave me a valuable gift simply by pointing out what was right in front of my nose. She noticed that some of my social media profiles include the descriptor “nature lover,” and asked me if, in addition to loving nature, I also write about it.

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but it turns out that I write about nature a lot. I laughed and said that I guess I’m kind of an “accidental” nature writer.

And then we talked at length about what a nature essayist does and where. She shared some reading resources and generally opened my eyes to a new potential outlet for some of my writing. How cool is that? More importantly, she gave me a lens through which to view some of my work in a way that will help me focus my efforts. Again – so cool.

Are there themes or topics that you return to again and again in your writing? Pay attention to them. Explore them. Think about how they fit together and where they might fit out in the world. You might be, like me, missing an invitation to walk a particular path just because you didn’t notice it was there.

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What I’m Reading:

bok darker shade magicI heard about A Darker Shade of Magic, the new book from Victoria (V.E.) Schwab, via Jen Campbell’s vlog, This is Not the Six Word Novel. Thank you, Jen!

I have had several recent disappointments with fantasy novels lately. I grew up reading fantasy and SciFi almost exclusively, and I’ve been itching lately to recapture that feeling of being swept off my feet and into another world. The trouble is, my tastes seem to have evolved, and it’s been a challenge to find stories that feature the kind of world-building prowess that makes me suspend disbelief, even at my – ahem – mature age.

Enter Schwab’s world of four parallel Londons.

From the book jacket:

STEP INTO A UNIVERSE OF DARING ADVENTURE, THRILLING POWER, AND MULTIPLE LONDONS.Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king-George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rougish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

Sounds fabulous, right? It is. 

This is the first book I’ve read by Schwab, but I have already added other titles of hers to my Want to Read list.

A Darker Shade of Magic is a perfect example of thorough and engaging world building. Once I opened the cover and stepped into the story, I was immediately drawn into Schwab’s alternate reality of four, parallel Londons and the magic that binds them together. Her characters are well drawn and her magic system is full of unexpected possibilities without being at all implausible (as magic systems go).

Once she had me hooked, Schwab led me through her story at a perfect pace. Though my overall impression of the book is that it’s something of a swashbuckler, the action is balanced with pockets of “smaller” action. It never feels like a Hollywood car chase, but I still couldn’t stop turning the pages.

Perhaps most importantly, I cared about what happened to these characters. Having recently abandoned a book because I just didn’t care what happened to the story’s protagonist, I was delighted to feel actual anxiety about what was happening to Kell and Lila. I reacted physically to some scenes, cringing and tensing as I read.

Perhaps the most complimentary thing I can say about this book is that it was good enough that I found myself making all kinds of excuses to read “just one more chapter.” I even carted it with me when I went to wait in line to pick up my daughter at school. (And, yes, I may have left a little earlier than usual to extend my waiting/reading time.)

Bottom line: I recommend this one highly, and I already can’t wait for the sequel, A Gathering of Shadows, which is due out next February.

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And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

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Finally, a quote for the week:

This week we have so much more than a mere quote. Big thanks to the lovely Sara Foley (aka The Practical Mystic) for finding and sharing this gem in her Twitter feed this week.

Here’s to embracing your mistakes, learning from them, and creating a writing world that sweeps you off your feet and into a new life. Happy reading! Happy Writing! See you on the other side. 

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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40 thoughts on “Weekend Edition: Love Your Mistakes Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

  1. I love continuing to educate myself about writing (and publishing/book marketing too). It is inspiring to learn so much and sometimes, as you said, we even figure certain things out about our own writing that we were doing without realizing it!

    I’ve been doing some reading this week about writing craft and indie publishing (now moving to Fairy Tales and Feminism, book wise).

    I’m working on learning print publishing with CreateSpace and just organized my first Free days for my kindle eBook ‘A Galaxy of Possibilities’ for May 4 and 5. I never thought that indie publishing would be so much fun (despite all the challenges and the mistakes, but hey learning by doing makes us grow!)

    Have a great weekend! 🙂

    • I love that you’re having so much fun, Natacha. 🙂
      And I also love how you’re always keeping busy with such a variety of writing and marketing. Kudos to you!

      Good luck with CreateSpace and with your giveaway!

      “Talk” to you soon!

  2. Like you I read almost exclusively SciFi and fantasy early in life. When I started to take my own writing more seriously and started working on my BA in English, I found my tastes shifting and now have to admit that I haven’t read either much in the last 15 years. Also, I started out my writing journey thinking I’d write mostly non-fiction with the occasional short story. Now, other than my blog posts, I write most poetry.

    Go figure.

    and as expected, another great post from you. Thanks.

    • Hello, Andrew. 🙂

      Isn’t it interesting how our tastes evolve and our writing journey takes us into unexpected territory? Just goes to prove that even when we *think* we know what’s what, the muse still has plenty of surprises and adventure ahead. I love that.

      Thanks for being here.

  3. To gain some insight in turning failure inside out until I can learn from it is just what I needed to hear today … having just recently received a rejection for a story. Your advice rings so very true, so very supportive. May many people read and learn from this post: We are all travelers learning as we move along,stumble along. Thank you.

    • Indeed, Anthony, we are all stumbling along together; and how nice when we can extend a hand to help a fellow writer up after a down day. I’m sorry you received a rejection, but CONGRATULATIONS on putting your work out there. THAT is worthy of celebration.

      Thanks for being here. 🙂

  4. Great post! I agree with the musician, if someone had asked me 10 years ago the same question I would have given the same answer…. This story is crap! It sucks it’s all BS and Its not gonna lead anywhere … Everything leads to some place. And mistakes definitely teach you something if you look for the lesson. But it took me a while to share that perspective 🙂

    • “Everything leads to some place.”
      So true!
      I agree that perspective definitely comes with time (and age). And, that’s a good thing.

      Thanks for coming by. Glad you liked the post!

  5. Writing is basically an inner urge, an intuitive reaction of your inner world to express yourself in words. Yes one needs to practice hard to gain the right skill to be a good writer as you have rightly put it down. Yet to be a writer; practice, hardworking, experience through mistakes all are necessary yet they are secondary. FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANT IS THAT INNER INTUITIVE REACTION OF YOUR INNER WORLD TO EXPRESS YOUR SELF IN WORDS! Without that mere practice wouldn’t be of much help i believe!

    • I am endlessly fascinated with the “why” of writing. Sometimes it seems so natural, and other times it seems like such a bizarre compulsion. I think you’re right that there is an underlying and very personal urge to express ourselves and, in my opinion, to connect with others – bridge the gap between our experience and their experience.

      Once that driving force has taken hold, then it’s time to practice the craft and learn how to tell the best story you can.

  6. Ah there are no accidents, no mistakes, only experiences and we can choose to grow through them or let them get us down. I recommend the first option – having tried them both.

    • So true. So true. It’s not about what happens; it’s about how we respond to what happens. Make a mistake? So what? Pull it apart, see why it happened, figure out how to avoid it in the future.

      Thanks for being here, Peter. 🙂

  7. I absolutely agree that you really need to dig in and get your hands dirty if you really want to become good at something. I held off on blogging for a long time because I felt like I needed to get to a point where I was “ready” to do it right. But eventually I realized I need to just DO it and improve through experience, even if my first posts aren’t exactly perfect. Fittingly enough, I actually wrote about this in one of my (recent posts) – no matter how much reading and preparation you do, you won’t really understand the intricacies behind a skill until you work it out yourself.

    • Ahhh … the Myth of Ready. 😉

      Glad you decided to just dive in. I need to get better at that myself.

      And, having read your post (very nice!), I now have to go figure out which scene that is re: Hermione. My daughter is a HUGE Harry Potter fan. It will be a good one to have in my back pocket for when she has trouble with some task or other. “Even Hermione makes mistakes sometimes!”

  8. Dearest Jamie #HUGSS

    The months of March and April taught me the value of uncertainty in writing. While the quality and quantity of my work was not satisfying, these months helped me understand why shitty first drafts are paramount to cohesive blog posts! LOL

    I am finally getting rid of my perfectionist garb whose heart sunk with every mistake! I just want to let go and write – my words might not always be impactful, but – with practice – I believe they should touch more hearts and bring satisfied smiles on my readers’ faces.

    To this end, and mostly inspired by YOU, I am getting back to writing anything and everything on my blog three-four times a week! 😀

    Thank you for being so encouraging and empowering #HUGS

    LOVE YOU so much
    Kitto

    • Hello, dear Kitto. 🙂

      You warm my heart with such kind words, and I’m so delighted to know that I am, in some small way, helping you move forward with your writing.

      Repeat after me, “There is no such thing as perfection.”
      It’s easy to be deceived into thinking that our work is “not good enough,” but in truth it is perfect for where it is on the spectrum of our journey. You can’t skip steps. You have to take one at a time, and the journey will never be over. (And that’s a good thing!)

      Always so nice to see you.
      Happy to know you’re writing.

      Hugs back atcha!

  9. Hey blog twin 🙂 I think it might beds trick of the ego where we think that true artists are almost superhuman in their ability to create near perfection…instead of people who work hard and practice their craft! Hey, was it you that recommended Pilgrimage of Desire by Alison Gresik? I’m reading it at the moment and am just loving it. So many parallels…

    • Hello, twinsie! *waves*
      🙂

      I think you’re on to something there re: that “trick of the ego.” Why should any writer be spared the labor of hard work and practice? We must each put in our time, just like any other artist. And, we should never be ashamed of the hours that go into that effort, or the work that results from it. All part of the journey, right?

      And – YES! – I did recommend Alison’s book, and I’m so glad you’re enjoying it. Yay!

      Hope your second dad is doing well. Thinking of your whole family.

      • Yes, my second dad is doing very well – thank you so much for asking!
        Great, it was you that gave me that book recommendation – I thought it was. I finished last night. Thoroughly enjoyable 🙂

  10. Reblogged this on LovelyWe and commented:
    I’m so glad I came across this post today because it couldn’t have come at a better time. It has taken me a (very long) while to finally commit to making this blog a reality because I was constantly thinking about it with a “fear-of-failure” mentality (so not helpful!) dictated by my ego, rather than a “just-take-a-chance-and-see-what-happens” mentality inspired by my heart. It’s great to know that so many other writers, and people in general, find themselves face to face with fear (it’s only human), but decide to move through it to continue doing what they love, and end up learning so much from the very thing they were afraid. In the end, practice is really the only thing that makes perfect – you gotta do it to get through it (possible new mantra anyoone?!) As creatives and doers and movers and shakers, there is so much pressure to fit this model of “greatness”, imposed on us by both ourselves and society, that sometimes we tend to shrink ourselves into little boxes of fear – causing anxiety (of what’s to come) or regret (over what has already happened). But if we just learn to let that go and realize everything is a learning process, and all mistakes are just stepping stones towards success, (everything is meant to be!) maybe we can find ways to embrace our fears as motivations to become our own personal heroes once we reach the other side. One step at a time, no regrets. I mean what’s the worst that can happen?

    • Love so much of what you’ve shared here. 🙂

      I am always reminding myself that art is not perfection. It is not meant to be a facade. It’s meant to be “real” and “true.” Well, real and true are full of mistakes … just like Real Life. And, sometimes so-called mistakes turn out to be beautiful. And, sometimes they help you learn and help others learn, too.

      Oh … and yes, yes, YES to being our own heroes.
      And – BEAUTIFUL : “… mistakes are just stepping stones towards success…” What a wonderful way to put it.

      Thanks for being here and sharing.

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