Many people view mistakes as a festering pimple on their personality. People spend a lot of time and money and energy attempting to avoid and hide pimples. Failure may lead to self-imposed isolation for fear small children will mistake the blemish for a second head. Well, let me tell you something. Come a bit closer. Come on. Don’t be shy. Closer. Good. Mistakes are not a pimple on your personality. EVERYONE makes mistakes. AND it is not the mistake that matters, but what you do after you make the mistake. Do you lie on the floor with ice cream smeared across your face and lament? Or do you fix the issue, learn, and move on? (You don’t have to confess here. But that ice cream on your chin kinda gives you away.)
So what is all this talk about mistakes? Glad you asked. I am reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (Thank you dotificus for the recommendation.) Lamott says writers need to set aside, rather, shove to the side, our rational mind and let our intuition guide the story. Woe! No one said throw away your outline, so you can loosen your death-grip on it. Hey, I get it. I do. You don’t trust your intuition. It’s hard. I know. Many of us shoved our intuition inside a toy trunk after a parent or adult explained away our accurate thoughts or feelings about situations. Their fear and doubts forced our natural understanding of human emotions and reactions and behaviors into darkness. It’s time to rescue that understanding. Our characters need that understanding if they are to be fully formed. SO, you need to run back to that toy trunk, toss aside the Etch-A-Sketch, the green army men, the one-legged Barbie, and the dirty Care Bear, and clutch your intuition to your chest.
Once you reclaim it, here’s what you need to do: USE IT! This is easier said than done. Again, I know. Trust me. I think the fear of not having the right word or creating the perfect plot allows your rational thoughts to storm in, red faced and screaming, “You can’t have your protagonist slap a nun. That is blasphemy!” Then it floods your mind with images of protestors marching in front of a bookstore, picket signs and knives and clubs in hand. Well, let’s put a plug in the protestors’ mouths for a second. It’s a first draft. Maybe it is a bad idea for your protagonist to slap a nun. Maybe it’s not. Just write the dang thing and sort it out later. When you come back around to the infamous slap scene you can ask yourself, “Self, what is this about? My gut says the slap ain’t on the mark, but I need something.” Then LISTEN to that voice in the back of your mind. Not the voice telling you to quiet your neighbor’s dog, but the one helping you write your story. That mistake (if it was in fact a mistake) can guide you to a better understanding of your protagonist, when you start to explore why you wrote the slap in the first place. Maybe the nun is an imposter. Maybe the protagonist has unresolved issues. Maybe the story needs more tension. You get the idea? That blemish, that mistake, can push you to explore your character, learn more. And that my friends, is the beauty of mistakes . . . they help you explore and learn.
(Oh! Pimples do go away.)