Friday, 8 June 2012

Rueful Logic

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” 
“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” 
Mahatma Gandhi

Through the last few weeks of final line editing (going through a manuscript for the last time to see if you’ve blindly missed any commas, full stops or whole words), I realised that no matter how careful you are, you’re going to make mistakes.

I think this also pertains to life in general. How many of us have that one skirt which you know is too colourful for anyone over eight and which has never left the confines of your closet? How many times have you gone over a conversation that you had with a friend and wondered why you used that word whose etymology is dubious to say the least and if that person is going to forever think you’re a complete moron? Mistakes and regret happen. They’re a part of life. I always tell my son that the only thing that matters is how hard you work at correcting them.

But is this true? Could that enormous no parking sign have been an omen heralding the appearance of that totally unfair traffic policeman? Are we just plain careless? In The Scarlet Omen, my protagonist Anjeli faces heart-rending regret and wishes that she could make things better. However, in her case, destiny and fate gang up and shove her out of the way. Sometimes, there is no reconciliation. Would it have been better never to have made the mistake in the first place?

“Because we live in an achievement and success oriented world, a popular rule is, "Whenever you do anything, do it right." Our parents, teachers, coaches, and friends helped us learn this rule. If we adopted it as our own then it may have been translated as, "Be thoroughly adequate and competent in everything you do." With this rule we become perfectionists and don’t like mistakes. Mistakes are now "bad" and something to be avoided.”—Daniel H. Johnston, 2002, Lessons for Living,

As an author, mistakes – especially those made during the querying process and final line editing – can be fatal. Compare: 'He glanced around the sea of faces' and 'He lanced around a sea of faeces'. Can you already hear your manuscript being flushed down the toilet? An author’s whole reputation depends on being a perfectionist! However, at any other time, I have to admit that mistakes are the tutors of life. We screw up, we learn and we move on, praying all the way that we haven’t left too much damage in our wake.

“The problem is that you are applying a bad rule about mistakes. It may have been a good rule and kept you out of trouble when you were six years old, but it is not a good rule now that you are older. It is time to change the rule…… a mistake is the first step in learning. Success comes from mistakes. This is good news…..With your new rule, what should you say to yourself the next time you make a mistake? Something like, "Great! Wonderful! Now I can learn something." You will be energized and feel excited, challenged, and motivated. You will get busy and work harder.“—

Well that sounds a whole lot better. Pull out your pom-poms people because mistakes are the building blocks of a good plot. Characters in a novel go around making mistakes all the time and the whole point is to learn something from their journey - laughing, crying and cursing along with them as they bumble through life…and learn. Good news for us authors; bad news for that poor character who's about to answer the beckoning whispers of that Earth nymph!

“When you make a mistake, don’t look back at it long. Take the reason of the thing into your mind and then look forward. Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.”—Hugh White (1773-1840)

“If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error.”—John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)

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