Mistake? No Problem: Or, How to Embrace Mistakes

Sometimes, it feels like nothing you do is right, starting out with the initial idea to start. This is completely untrue. It isn’t a mistake unless you decide it is.

Besides being a writer, I also love crafts of all varieties, especially miniatures and dollshouses. Which is why I had the “brilliant idea” to make the kidlet a dollshouse for Christmas. We started early in the year, and the behemoth is still in pieces (and not for lack of trying). And it occurs to me that creating this dollshouse from scratch is a lot like writing a story.

One of the walls, just starting out
One of the walls, just starting out

First, you have the idea. Then you make a plan. Like most of my novels, this isn’t my first time around. I’ve built a dollshouse before, but never one quite as ambitious. But then, what’s the point not challenging yourself?

Next, you realize the enormity of your plan. It’s a little scary. This is when you realize how many words your novel needs. Or in my case, I first saw the pieces of the walls stood up in a test run. The behemoth will stand almost three-feet high, I kid you not. It’s HUGE! But, just as you can’t stop to consider and worry about how you’ll reach 100k when you’re at the beginning of your novel, you can’t fret over every word. You just write this scene. And the next. And the next.

Then you hit the midpoint, and think it will never ever be complete. Sometimes for novels this happens during rewrites, sometimes during the first draft when you hit the actual midpoint of the story, especially if you haven’t pre-plotted. It’s usually about 40,000 words for me when writing the story isn’t as “fun” as it was in the beginning, probably when the novelty of a new idea starts to fade. When building an enormous dollshouse, this happens when you’ve been gluing what seems like millions of pre-stained coffee-stirrer sticks to make hardwood floors, and you’ve just pasted the wrong wallpaper in two separate rooms. If it was a novel, you’d quit or delete it. With a dollshouse, there was a strong desire to burn the darned thing. Do not despair. You’ve just hit the midpoint low.

The first floor. The tiles are painted and cut out of cardboard.
The first floor. The tiles are painted and cut out of cardboard.

Next comes the part where you embrace mistakes and soldier on anyway. You are a professional (or in my case, too damned stubborn to quit anyway). So at this point you can decide to rip out the mistakes and start again, or embrace them and just move on. Which you choose depends on  you, but personally, sometimes I like sticking with the mistake and using it as an opportunity. After all, it may have been a mistake that brought us this far to start with – what other wonders could lay ahead? Make a list, laying out all the steps you need to get to “done.” At this juncture, it’s helpful to enlist assistance. For a writer, call on other writerly friends, or best of all, a critique partner or possibly just someone to brainstorm with. For a dollshouse, get someone who’s better at measuring than you, and someone who doesn’t give a darn which wallpaper was supposed to go where in the first place, and doesn’t understand why every room needed to be different anyway (aka, the husband).

The beast as of Saturday night. The wallpaper is complete, and a few short steps, we start to assemble.
The beast as of Saturday night. The wallpaper is complete, and a few short steps, we start to assemble.

The beast rises! And you witness the fruits of your labors. After much sweating and crying, your hard work starts to pay off. As a writer, maybe you hold a completed first draft in your hands – or perhaps, a third or fourth draft. For the dollshouse, this is the point when the mounds of wood and strange shaped pieces actually come together to form what resembles a house.  (I have not reached this point with this project yet, but I’m getting there).

Decoration, polish, and voila! You have conquered and won! This is the point we all wait for, where the novel actually stands as a novel, and you think, “hey, this isn’t half bad!” For the dollshouse, this will be Christmas morning when the kidlet sets eyes on it. I’m totally after a good reaction, so I confess to having been priming her since, oh, May that if she’s really good, perhaps she’ll get a dollshouse of her very own. I can’t wait to see her expression, just as a writer can’t wait for someone to finally read their story.

Speaking of which, the writing actually needs some work now that the dollshouse has had its due for the evening.

But first, what about you – have you ever taken on a project that seemed like a great idea at the time … and which you later wondered if you’d ever complete? A renovation perhaps? A novel? Love to hear from you. 🙂

Thanks for reading, and wishing you a terrific week. And hey, liked this post? Why not follow the blog?


The Journey to Publication, Writing

Revision and Plotting: Do as I say, not as I’ve done (pt 2)

As promised, here are the last 5 tips, or my advice on writing that sometimes, I’ve had a hard time remembering, and other times, has been learned the hard way. (for part 1 of this post, see: Revision and Plotting: Do as I say, not as I’ve done (pt1). Hope it helps!

  1. It’s your story. Protect it. Only you can tell your unique story, and while others will try to help you – and you need to accept some changes – beware of them trying to change the direction of where it’s meant to go. Certainly you can change your mind, but protect the essence, the little nugget and vision you had of it, which is what makes it yours and unique.
  2. Be open to critique. Understand it’s part of the process, and it will make your writing better. Remember point 6 and 7 when considering what critique to accept or reject, but critique is the only way to really gauge the reaction of your reader and what your writer is successfully conveying.
  3. Make yourself a revision road-map, and clear goals. I can’t tell you how much difference this has made to the revision process. It means you’ll hopefully have to go through fewer drafts, it makes clear the weaknesses and strengths, AND it will keep you going when things start to get hard. (For more on this, check out my post on revisions: Light at the end of the Tunnel: Revision Pt. 1 & 2)
  4. Breaks are not evil. You need to rest, or you’ll burn-out and crash. I’m terrible at this one, but I’m getting better. Remember, your brain needs breaks sometimes too, allowing it to refuel. Taking time to nurture yourself will only make you stronger – and doesn’t have to mean lack of productivity. Because …
  5. Just get writing, already! Above all else, worrying about writing, fretting you can’t find the time, it’s not good enough, taking too many courses, allowing in too much input, etc, etc, what you HAVE to do is get writing. Because that’s the point of all this, right? Sometimes all you need to clear your head is to stop worrying about everything else, and just allow the words to flow from you. You can worry about everything else later – and I’ll bet you’ll be less stressed about it after a productive writing session. I know I go kind of batty if I haven’t been doing enough writing. For most of us, it’s a part of who we are, and to deny it is foolish.

So, have I missed any tips / mistakes you make? Want to share so everyone else can avoid them? Come on, giving advice is SO much easier than taking it. 🙂

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

The Journey to Publication, Writing

Revision and Plotting: Do as I say, not as I’ve done, Pt 1

Do you ever have a moment when you pray to whatever you believe in that maybe, just maybe, you’ll start getting smarter? That maybe you’ll stop making the same ridiculous mistakes again and again, ever after making your life more difficult?

I do. Especially when it comes to my writing. As with many things, it’s so much easier to give advice than take it. So, I’m going to suggest ten things I know about writing that you SHOULD do … and which sometimes I’m not smart enough to remember.

  1.  Plot the damned book. No, I don’t mean you have to use a spreadsheet and know every detail of every scene, or remember each day of your fictional character’s life (although if that’s for you, go for it). What I am saying is have some kind of a plan. Maybe it’s just an idea of a direction that you jot notes about. Maybe you opt for the “25 things that have to happen” list, or just the major turning points, but if you give yourself a bit of a road map, you make your life SO much easier, especially when it comes time for revisions. Yes, I have started with no idea where I’ve been going, and I’ve written detailed plot cards; the first is too little for me, the second too much (I get bored). Which leads to my next point …
  2. Plot and write in YOUR way, not the method that works best for Mr. Bestseller or Ms. NewYorkTimes. Certainly, as you grow and learn your craft, your methods will likewise change and evolve. That’s great. They should. And who knows, maybe you will write and plot like other writers … and maybe you won’t. Don’t worry about it so much, and just get on with the writing and discovering your own method. Which means …
  3. Never stop learning. Take courses, read books, talk to other writers. I think it’s dangerous to suddenly reach a point where you feel you have nothing left to learn. Why, are you perfect? How did that happen? And if you are, where are you supposed to go from there? Your books might still be good, but they’ll never get any better, which personally, sounds boring. So, keep learning, keep trying to expand yourself however you can. Sometimes you’ll learn / realize something that will knock you back on your butt, but that’s okay, it’s just a growing pain.
  4. Avoid information overload. Respect your own intuition, too. Okay, so once you’ve read all those books, it can be really easy to think, gee, I’m not doing ANY of those things, and I must be terrible, I have to change how I’m doing this, I better try that … Stop. Consider. Are there areas in your writing (craft, methods, etc), that you know need improvement? Than maybe some change is needed. However, don’t change everything just for the sake of change. Some of what you were doing was probably working for you, and if it’s getting the results you want, don’t toss it needlessly.
  5. Know what input to accept, and what to reject.This is something that takes confidence and belief in yourself, and which changes over time. It applies to critiques, workshops, classes, knowledge in books. Before accepting – or rejecting – anything just because, let it sink in for a bit. Some will stick, and feel right. Others … won’t, so let them float away and disappear. Which leads to …

A break for the week, since this post is growing too long! Next week I’ll have the final 5 things you can do and hopefully avoid my mistakes.

Meanwhile, what mistakes / tips would you share? Come on, it will be cathartic.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.