What Are You Making?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Embrace mistakes and keep writing.
Credit: EKHumphrey
 I don’t know about you, but I’ve been trained to not make mistakes. (My kids may see it as my perfectionist tendencies....)

For many years, I have worked as a journalist. I consistently work to get my facts right. Obviously mistakes can happen. But I really do try to avoid them. Are you the same way with your work?

This perfectionist attitude at the keyboard—or using pen and paper—can sometimes cause problems. For several years I’ve studied creativity, which encourages mistakes.It is the trial and error that helps to bring us around to the truth we are seeking as writers and in writing.

While this may push against the “write what you know” lesson, in this case it may be trumped by “learn from your mistakes” lesson. After all, didn’t you need to switch points of view in your first novel to really understand how to stay in one point of view or learn how to gracefully shift from one to the other? Or what about switching your protagonist from a male to a female halfway through your short story? Just trying to get things right, even if he ends up as a she on page 150.

Recently I realized I have not been making enough mistakes in my fiction writing. So I’m going to work on making more mistakes. What are some ways one can try to make mistakes in writing? Here are a few that I’m going to try:

  1. Write for a longer time than usual, which may cause the writing to become more carefree...and maybe more prone to mistakes?
  2. Take the most opposite point of view imaginable. We often are in a comfort zone about the point of view we start with. Take an unexpected perspective and see where it takes you. Getting out of the comfort zone will challenge your characters and your writing.
  3. Insert an unexpected conflict. Tension can build with conflict—what happens to your narrative if something (or someone) arrives that is different than the direction you were headed?
  4. Comfortable writing poetry? Practice writing a press release. Is corporate writing a breeze for you? Then challenge yourself to some flash fiction.
  5. Play with length. Try telling about your town’s claim-to-fame in 140 characters or less. (Then tweet it!) Or write as if your entire novel—including any back-story—can fit into 100 words (or less).
Because we spend so much time in our lives trying not to make mistakes, challenge your writing a little and don’t be surprised if you find mistakes after you’re done!

What is the funniest, UNintentional mistake you’ve found in your own writing?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is an editor who spends her time finding mistakes—frequently in her early drafts! She writes and edits in North Carolina.


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