It was a 5-star review of The Productive Writer. The reviewer had clearly appreciated and benefited from the book. She spent a paragraph saying so. And then she dedicated the second half of the review to venting about a typo that displeased her.
This fascinated me. Because I have come to see that one particular typo, repeated multiple times throughout the book, as a badge of honor. I tell myself, “I wrote a book! Yup, there were mistakes. Mistakes happen when humans make things. This is part of the beauty of it all. And, gosh darn it—I WROTE A BOOK!”
I was once the kind of writer who would have not forgiven myself for that typo. For any typo. When I was that kind of writer—an imaginary perfect writer—I did not send my work out for fear of a flaw. In fact, I did not share it with anyone, ever. What if my writing was no good? What if other people didn’t like it? What if, heaven forbid, there were a typo?
I remember the day when I made a decision that changed my writing life forever. I decided that good enough was good enough. That perfection was not the point. That sharing writing that mattered to me was the point. Connecting with other humans was what it was all about. And if people judged me for work that was imperfect, so be it.
This attitude was brutally tested when circumstance had me proofing my first book two weeks after my son was born. Having been awake for three weeks solid, I could barely focus on the page, let alone proof coherently. I remember sitting with that giant sheaf of printed paper in front of me, infant in my arms, and sobbing until my mother in law came and gently led me away from the table where I was trying to work.
Needless to say, I missed dozens of typos in that book. Maybe more. But who’s counting? In that giant, hormonal and sleepless tornado of bookbirth and childbirth in tandem, I did what I could. And mistakes were made.
And I wouldn’t trade those mistakes for the world. Because they are place markers of how I cut my teeth in my wobbly new incarnation as an author. They were born of the passion to bring forward the best I had to give to poets. They were stones on my path.
Have you made any mistake doozies lately? If so, I applaud you! Let’s celebrate them here together! If you haven’t, I dare you to put more skin in the game. Because without mistakes, you’re missing some very important vistas. Every misstep gives you a foothold into growth, compassion, and greater clarity about what you want and how to get there. Getting it wrong is the foundation on which getting it right is built.
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There’s still time to transform mistakes into momentum in your writing life! Register today for the Finding Your Stride workshop in Portland, Oregon—starting March 4! Let’s make 2014 your most potent writing year yet! I’ll be teaching with literary goddesses Christi Krug and Laura Stanfill! Learn more and register.
Sage, how thoughtful of you to tell your readers that some typos or other mistakes are okay. I was thrilled to get a response back from a regional publisher whom I hope will accept my book project for publication. It was only when I re-read the contact form I had submitted, that I noticed for the first time I had left out the “n” in “another,” making it look like “aother.” Needless to say, I was frustrated with myself. But within a week or so I saw two blog comments in which that pesky “n” was left off the word “an.” Knowing that each writer knew better than to write “a exception” or “a unknown” I relaxed. There will be more “a’s” rather than “an’s” yet to come as a normal part of writing and publishing.
Well done, Barbara! We can let all of those “n”s wander off wherever they’re headed, while we keep our heads down in the writing mosh pit!
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Thank you for posting this. I was recently in a similar boat–final proofs of my poetry manuscript, while caring for a two year old and a nine month old (who still didn’t sleep through the night), while working as a full time professor…and there are two typos in the book and they kill me! Thank you for the permission to focus on what matters–connecting with my readers!