Writing Mistakes: Friend or Nemesis?

 In Editing, Writing

“A man’s errors are his portals of discovery”  – James Joyce


We often don’t have time to make mistakes or forge new trails and have to stick to the formulas and techniques that work so we can cross as many things off our list as possible.

When we sit down to write, we can’t afford to experiment with voice, genre, or mechanics. We can’t take the chance that we will squander precious writing time.


Obviously, I can’t speak for your particular circumstances, but I would like you to question the assumptions behind the idea that you don’t have time to explore new things in your writing and that mistakes are a waste of time.

Can Writing Mistakes be Opportunities?

What if you, like James Joyce, decide to look at mistakes as opportunities for discovery?

If humans didn’t make the time to explore and test new ideas, surrealism would never have become an art movement, penicillan wouldn’t have saved millions of lives, the personal computer would not change our world on a daily basis.

But a willingness to make mistakes doesn’t only have potential in the world outside our doors. Joyce understood that the potential for growth, discovery, and change is just as important when it happens within us.

Think of the possibilities you create when you decide to take a chance on something new – even if only occasionally.

Maybe you will realize that you love poetry. This is a genre I’ve been exploring recently – not because I’m good at it, but because I like the economy of words and the opportunity to play with the accepted rules of grammar and syntax.

What if you decide to put some effort into developing your voice and something remarkable emerges. Have you given conscious thought to your voice? Granted, with practice it will emerge naturally on its own. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t think about it and experiment with it.

Have you tried writing a novel instead of feature articles? While I haven’t done so myself, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that novel writing can influence non-fiction writing and experimenting with the possibilities.

Are any of these experiments going to pay off ? I don’t know. But not knowing is part of the fun and mystery of writing. In no way am I worried that I will waste my time if these efforts fail. Why? Because I also know that I will discover things about myself and my writing in the process. That can only benefit me and make me a better writer.

I can’t predict success – but I can guarantee that I will learn a great deal by my willingness to make writing mistakes.

Get Over It!

If you’re scared of private journaling because you don’t know what you’ll expose about yourself, get over it. If you won’t pitch your article ideas because you believe you’ll get rejection letters anyways and don’t want to waste your time, get over it. If you won’t take the time to try new things with your writing because you’re worried you’ll fail, get over it. Einstein said: “I’ve failed my way to success.” Rather than play chicken, be willing to follow the examples of Einstein and Joyce, jump into writing experiments and be prepared for your education to begin.

Recommended Posts

Leave a Reply

Writing RulesLet your writing evolve