It's Okay to Make Mistakes

Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Repeat the title of this blog post to yourself as many times as needed. Why? Because one of the biggest obstacles writers face--no matter where you are in your writing or publishing career--is getting over the fear of making a mistake. It can paralyze you, no matter where you sit on the pefectionist spectrum.

I didn't always know that it was okay to make a mistake. I have spent so many wasted hours worrying about the mistakes I did make and the mistakes I would probably make. Those wasted hours are ones I cannot get back. They were unproductive. There's absolutely nothing I can do about them.

But I can tell myself now that it is okay to make mistakes. If I self-publish with a cover that is slightly wrong for my nonfiction book, that's not the end of the world. It's okay if I price my book too low or too high. It's not the worst thing ever if I miss opportunities to put some people on my e-newsletter list. (This paragraph of all the mistakes I may make during indie publishing or I have made during traditional publishing could go on and on and on, but I'll stop at three. The rule of three is a good one to use when listing examples, but that's another blog post entirely. And now, I made a fourth mistake, rambling about other topics during a blog post.)

I had this realization (of it being okay to make mistakes, in case you have no idea what this post is about after my rambling) after listening to The Six Figure Author Podcast. This podcast with three indie authors who have made six figures in a year during their indie author careers is fun and inspiring. (The hosts are Lindsay Buroker, Joseph R. Lallo, and Andrea Pearson.) They share their mistakes as well as their successes, and that's important. They share how ideas that used to work don't work anymore. They share how they LEARN from their mistakes.

Ding. Ding. Ding.

That's the thing. It's okay to make mistakes if you learn from them. Okay, I'm not trying to be hard on you here. Listen, I've made the same mistakes countless times. I was just explaining to my daughter the other day on a pandemic walk (that's what I call our daily walks now) the saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." I was explaining it because I have recently been fooled twice, and I was frustrated and grumpy.

But look, if I put my book up on Amazon and I follow all the information that I have now to the best of my ability, and it doesn't sell, that's okay. I know some strategies to try to improve sales. What is absolutely not all right is worrying that I will do it wrong and make mistakes and never put it up for sale. That is unexcusable, and I will not let that happen.

I know some of you worry about making a mistake, such as:

  • Did I start my essay the right way? Did I revise it enough? Is it really ready to enter the contest? Am I experienced enough to enter a contest?
  • Should I publish traditionally or self-publish? If I self-publish and fail, will anyone ever want to traditionally publish me again?
  • Am I querying the right agents?
  • Do I have the right to write this piece I wrote? 
  • Will anyone be mad at me if they read this essay I wrote about my truths?
  • Is the world ready for my memoir?
  • Am I writing for young adult or middle grade? Should I use profanity in my writing? Will I be banned?
Take a deep breath, tell yourself it's okay to make mistakes, educate yourself, and then trust yourself that you are doing the best you can do. And if you make a mistake, you will fix it and learn from it. That's all you need to do.

It's okay to make a mistake. 

Margo L. Dill is a writing coach, teacher, editor, and writer, living in St. Louis, MO with her 9-year-old daughter and one-year-old pup. You can find out more about her here. You can sign up for her novel writing course each month here


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--In a former life, I used to be a quilter. I still remember a nationally-known quilter (at a presentation) telling us, "When you're green, you're growing," and it's true. When we're putting out green shoots, when we're branching out, that means we're growing and improving. Yes, sometimes we branch out in the wrong direction, and have to eventually bend in a different one. However, as long as we're growing and trying our best to get better, we'll get where we need to get... at some point.

Thanks for the reminder. I think writers--because we love to revise--want to get things right the first time. The right publisher. The right book cover. The right book blurb, but like you reminded us--we CAN make mistakes.

And the world won't stop turning when that happens...

Margo Dill said...

Totally. I hear authors and writers--traditionally and indie published--talk on podcasts a lot, and they all seem to mention mistakes they made and look, they are now successful enough to be interviewed on a podcast. :) I am really trying to not let the fear of mistakes hold me back anymore. It's a constant battle, but I think being aware is the first step, as the cliche goes.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Nodding perfectionist over here! I relate, Margo. Sometimes I'll wake up in the middle of the night worrying over typos in a mailer or making the wrong choices in building the new website or putting my deeply personal essays out there. (See, I used three examples, too! ;) But as both you and Sioux said, it means we're learning and growing. Sometimes I worry about that, too. Am I too old to be diving into new fields, making mistakes (aka growing)? But it's never too late, as the saying goes.

However, there is one thing I absolutely love: the creative mistake. I make them all the time in artwork, and sometimes in writing. You accidentally do something, create an effect, and then curse (if you're me), but before undoing it, you take a step back and realize it was absolutely what you needed. It's how I create my best work! So mistakes can not only be learning experience, they can be an unexpected creative gift. Sometimes you just need to try everything within the realm of what you're doing to see what works.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Angela--Your comment reminded me I forgot to tell you how your art on Renee's true-crime podcast blew me away. The image, along with the colors... That weird blue-green, paired with that brilliant red. Incredible.

Sorry, Margo. I'm done hijacking your post. ;)

Renee Roberson said...

I agree with this post 100 percent. I still wake up in the middle of the night (like Angela!) afraid of making mistakes in my professional work. Speaking of that podcast (another hijack, but it's relevant!), I had an error in the audio of one of the episodes. I thought it would be too hard to fix, and then someone on Twitter also politely pointed it out. That was the third person who noticed it, so I fixed it and was able to re-upload the entire audio within a matter of minutes. So I made a mistake right off the bat and the world didn't end, it just taught me a valuable lesson in the GarageBand software. I obviously needed to learn that.

I love that you are stepping into that fear, Margo, and continuing to produce. Everyone makes mistakes. It's the people who continue to make mistakes and learn from them that are the most successful, in my opinion.

Margo Dill said...

Please, everyone, hijack away!

Ang:I like that idea of mistakes in creativity being what was meant to happen.

Renee: Great to know! Right? Your voice sounds so great on the podcast. Your voice is made for it!

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