It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something. ~Ornette Coleman
On a publisher’s loop this morning, a fellow author mentioned that F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to have said he wished he could get his books back so he could rewrite them.
I immediately connected with THAT sentiment.
Sure, I only have one published book out there in Bookland; but, even with that one book, I sometimes feel ‘writer’s remorse’ (I don’t think there IS such a term as ‘writer’s remorse’, but it seems to fit me SO well, I’ll coin it myself).
I’m probably the only author on the planet who literally cringes every time a potential buyer comments to me, I’m just getting ready to download CANDY G! I can’t wait to read it!”
I have to bite my tongue to stifle the advance apologies chomping at the bits to spew—before you DO read it, let me warn you—let me tell you ahead of time, a reviewer called it a ‘silly plot’—warning, warning—read at your own risk!
No, no, I’m not saying my book is bad. It isn’t bad at all. It is what it is. Some love it, some like it, some feel so-so about and some loathe it. That is true for ANY book.
What I AM saying is that I am the first to acknowledge that this book—my first published work—has flaws that I can see now. What I AM saying is that ALL of my writing has flaws. What I AM saying is that just because I have one published book out the door does not mean I’ve ‘arrived’ at my pinnacle writing experience.
One book—a hundred books—does not the perfect writer make.
This all could seem terribly hopeless, couldn’t it? Well, hell, C. Zampa, why even keep trying? I mean, if you’re going to just keep messing up, if you’re never going to get it perfect, what’s the point? How discouraging!
Not so, my friend. Not only am I NOT discouraged, I am ecstatic. I can see my mistakes.
I’ve been fortunate. Somehow, I’ve luckily found a multitude of friends and supporters in the writing community who work with me. But they don’t just work with me. They push me. They push me hard. They push me SO hard sometimes I feel like Lucy on the ballet episode—you know the one with the tough instructor who perpetually snapped her baton at the bumbling Lucy?
My teachers haven’t been tender. They haven’t been afraid to tell me what I’m doing wrong. Although they HAVE praised my strengths, they haven’t been easy on my weaknesses. And I HAVE been tempted to snarl at them when they point out an imperfection in my perfect work-in-progress.
But none of my mentors--not even one--will hesitate to tell you that I never balk at their advice. Oh, sure, I get second opinions--often--as anyone should. But as far as pointers that can make my story stronger, get more bang for the buck with tighetning, structure, etc.? I'd be silly not to listen. My mentors will tell you I grab help and run with it, feast on it with greedy passion. Sometimes I find I cherish the negatives because I know, I just know from experience, they can almost always be turned into positives. They have their own beautiful power.
To find your pristine manuscript isn’t so flawless after all…well, it stings. But I’d rather feel the sting now—as I’m writing the manuscript—and learn to correct my mistakes than to feel the much bigger bites of the readers who catch my blunders.
Winston Churchill said I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.
Like I said, I’m lucky.
Of course I wince at first upon hearing my errors.But the opposite end of that spectrum is the unfortunate author who either has not had the opportunity to learn or who DOES have the chance but refuses to accept they DO have weaknesses, even when those more experienced have tried to point them out and help them improve. To ignore help will keep them from growing. Even worse, to think they don’t NEED help will stunt their writing growth completely.
An unknown author said, Things could be worse. Suppose your errors were counted and published every day, like those of a baseball player.
And that’s just it. By sending our writing out to the public, we ARE sending our errors to be counted. So, like the ball player, it’s in our best interest to practice, to listen to the experienced ones who try to help us, to learn from OUR OWN experience, to be grateful that we have the means to sharpen our skills.
On the other side of that coin is this: in order to do all the above, we have to know and accept that we are always going to make mistakes. We aren’t going to reach that perfect moment in our writing when we know everything.
Harry Truman said, It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.
And another unknown author said—and I love this—Experience is what causes a person to make new mistakes instead of old ones.
And that’s the beauty of it all. In writing, as with everything else in life, we DO make mistakes. And, as everything else, we grow from them IF we use them as valuable learning tools instead of gauges of failure.
Some time ago I stumbled on an excerpt of a book. The short piece I read was so laden with mistakes and bad writing I actually found it comical. But the tragic part? It wasn’t supposed to be comedy.
My first—and lingering thought—was…didn’t this person have any one to help them, to mentor them? How sad that was to me to think.
But, then, my thought progressed to…what if this person DID have a mentor who tried to help them and they just knew more than the person offering the advice? THAT would have been the ultimate tragedy. Because that book is now out there—like the earlier quote said—with all its errors to be counted. And if an inexperienced eye like mine could even trip all over the mistakes and horrific writing, think how it will bode when an experienced eye zeroes in on it?
Falling prey to critical eyes is going to happen to all writers. It’s part of the game. But when my writing DOES fall victim to dissection, at least let me know in my heart the faults that get counted aren’t there because of my refusal to have opened my mind to learning.