Shelley Widhalm

Recovering from mistakes in writing (and life)

In Editing, Shelley Widhalm, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Discipline on July 20, 2014 at 11:00 am

When I make a mistake in my writing, I get to revise, edit and ask for advice, either through my writer’s group or my writing/reading friends.

But a mistake in life doesn’t give you a do-over (or a revision), particularly when you are dealing with other people, businesses and employer/government rules and regulations. My largest mistakes in life, so far, include:

• Taking my car to a particular brand-name dealership and believing (at least initially) in the list of non-necessary and expensive repairs, instead of finding a trusted, local mechanic. I should have clued in on the first bogus set of repairs, but I had a warranty and very little knowledge about what is important to keep the vehicle fully operational, versus those preventative maintenance and repair items that sound plausible, but are not needed.
• Hiring a national mover and not pursuing the BBB when the company lost and broke some of my items, and then charged nearly double the initial estimate.
• Believing people in positions of authority instead of questioning their motives, such as making money, using others as their lab rats and trying to get something for the price of dishonesty, greed or some other poor behavior.
• Not considering how to word written memos or handle phone conversations when I need to make a change to a place, thing or device that I rent or own, such as a housing unit, cell phone or electronic device.

These life mistakes, if I were to ask around, are most likely pretty universal. We all meet less-than-questionable and power/money-hungry people and deal with businesses with non-customer-focused practices out for the bottom line.

The problem with making a life mistake is it usually costs you time, money and even self-confidence. You usually don’t get a redo, editing what you said or did or didn’t do.

But in the writing world, mistakes (such as incomplete drafts, not gathering enough writing experience before trying to publish and sending your work off too early) can be remedied by researching what agents and publishers want, writing a pithy pitch and query letter, learning what other writers do to get their work out there and accepting rejection as part of the process. I have my own personal rejection pile from short story submissions, contest entries and query letters.

But I don’t beat myself up for these “mistakes,” because I consider the arc of the writing life a learning process. I become better because of my mistakes by fixing what I did “wrong” and carrying that lesson into my next writing project, so that with each novel my plots are tighter and more closely follow the story arc, my characters are more fully developed and my setting is better tied to plot and character.

That’s because with writing you get to start again and again and continue trying until you get published or meet your other writing goal. There’s Writer’s Market; there are thousands of agents and places to get your work out there, including blogs, magazines, journals and writing contests; and there’s the comforting stories of how many times the now-famous writers had to get rejected before their work was considered: Karen Stockley, Stephen King and James Michener.

The only costs I’ve found with my writing mistakes are the contest fees, the price of paper for mail-ins, and time. But it’s worth it. I don’t have to beat myself up over my list of mistakes, thinking only if … after the fact when it’s too late.

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