Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's Not Perfect: Writing Mistakes Worth Repeating

Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you do it again. --Franklin P. Jones


When you do it again. Wait a minute! I'm sure there's a more famous quote out there about not repeating past mistakes. Isn't the goal to learn from them and not do them again? Maybe not. Maybe some mistakes are worth repeating.

Often, a writer - - myself included - - works toward the day when certain mistakes are a thing of the past. We study and we strive for a writing process that saves time. We try to eliminate the mistakes that identify us as beginners.

But what happens when we keep we've learned, all the mistakes, foremost in mind? Is it possible to paralyze your writing? Does it become a goal toward perfection that inhibits your muse?

Maybe it's just my new excuse of the week, but I think there is something - some answer here - that at least partially explains what is putting the brakes on my own writing. One reason anyway. I don't like to think I'm a perfectionist, but I do feel like I have a lot of "don'ts" rattling around in my brain....

Don't repeat certain words or phrases. Don't use excessive dialog tags. Don't headhop. The list is personal and ever changing.

Of course, we do need to identify writing mistakes or have an awareness of them. I think many of them came to my awareness only a couple of years ago when I first became brave enough to submit my work to critique groups. That was an eye opener and invaluable lessons were learned on what to change to polish the finished product. Once your eyes are opened, you do have newfound knowledge.

Here's a list of possible don'ts that may have a few things that sound familiar. I caution that they may be more a list of things to avoid in excess rather than never attempt.

The Ten Mistakes.

The dilemma though is this. With experience, do you ban repeating mistakes you recognize? Or, my excuse or revelation (which I'm not sure!) do you realize some of your mistakes are part of your bag of tricks that enable you to put together a rough draft?

I think, with practice (yep, only achieved with actual writing!), the flow will become more instinctive, but like a pioneer on the wagon train having to decide what to keep and what to toss, not everything needs to be thrown out. I think there a middle road - - some mistakes tossed aside and others kept. For instance, one of my old mistakes, headhopping, I can't imagine going back to. I certainly wouldn't want to fix shifting POVs in revision. Believe me, it's a lot of work! Still, I wouldn't say I wouldn't consider it might be better in another character's POV, but as a whole section change, not the frequent switching I utilized in my early writing.

Other mistakes, however, aren't such a complex fix. It's not so difficult to fix dialog tags. It's not so difficult to find a different word to replace the same "go to" words. These, in a way, are "keeper" mistakes. Much like a placeholder note to look up research, maybe allowing myself certain mistakes are essential to maintaining the writer "trance." It's hard to remember though! I'll have to practice.

Have you identified your mistakes? Have you banned them from your writing or are some mistakes worth repeating?

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