We all make mistakes. Some are huge, some are insignificant, and some you will never live down. I know I have made plenty in the past year alone. A good friend of mine who I’ve come to learn makes great critiques of my work recently pointed out a few mistakes in the first printing of my second novel, including a few odd name changes and a historical footnote that drove me even more crazy for my not researching it properly. This fed into other, more general worries I’ve had about the book and whether or not people like the story. What really got me down about it was the fact that if I had just paid a little bit more attention when I was running through the final edits I would have caught these errors. It taught me a lesson about making sure my final product is as flawless as it can possibly be. The other worries are not so easy to live down. I find myself racked with anxiety: am I doing the best work I can? Is it living up to what I’ve produced so far? Should I even be in this writing game or should I just hang it up in the face of so many other talented, popular writers out there? These issues are important, and it’s very difficult to put them aside, given my personality.
I’m somebody who is already nine-tenths of the way there when it comes to having a pessimistic outlook on my life. I’ve been this way for a long time, and it has caused problems at every stage of the game. I spent a good many years of my twenties unable to maintain a basic relationship with a partner. I was recently let go from a job because of perceived “performance” issues. I sent my first novel to a bunch of different places to be reviewed only to be turned down by every single one of them. A recent inquiry into selling my novel at a bookstore was returned with a simple “not interested.” As a writer, I know I should be expecting this kind of failure on a daily basis, but my stress and guilt about not being good enough is not always easy to deal with some days.
“Mistakes were made,” indeed. I was just a toddler when the Iran/Contra scandal broke out, but I have read that this was the smarmy colloquialism jostled about by our leaders in Washington at the time. It’s a funny phrase in how it acknowledges a problem but doesn’t go all the way in mentioning who is at fault, something politicians have enjoyed in the decades since Reagan avoided (a very deserving) impeachment. It could also be used in our own lives if we are seeking to escape accountability, either from our overbearing internal monologue or from those around us. But I’ve found that owning up to them makes for a much better outcome.
I did make those editing mistakes, and I am sorry if they were distracting or took you out of the scene. Getting over the fact that people may not like this book is a little tougher to deal with, but as I see it I have two options. One, I can consider it an assent to hang up my writing career, knowing that not everyone is going to like my work. Or I can accept that not everyone is going to like my work and keep at it, improving with every novel and piece of journalism I produce.
When it comes right down to it, our mistakes make us who we are. Sometimes I look over the stuff I was writing back in 2008 when I began writing online. It’s hardly stellar work, but I can see the writer I would become in those lines. I would not be where I am today without getting my start there. Therein lies the rub: there is no success without massive, and constant, failure. We are going to fail: at life, at relationships, at producing art. What remains is how we deal with it. I can either let my OCD-ravaged brain latch onto the (many) mistakes I’ve made over the years or I can see them for what they are: necessary corrections on the way to becoming a better writer. It’s going to be a long, hard slog, but in the end it will be worth it.
That’s advice I would give to anyone, since I’m supposed to be using this platform to dish some out. What matters is where we land on the other side of our errors. If you consider each screw up to be emblematic of a lifetime of failures, then you’re going to be right. But if you accept that these things are going to happen despite any success you may find, then you are well on your way to a great career. Owning the failure is something that must be done, however you find it within yourself to do it.
So go ahead and let mistakes be made. Just ensure that you know who made them, and what to do differently next time. At the very least, that’ll put you miles beyond the people running the country.
John Abraham-Watne is an author and freelance journalist located in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife Mary and their two cats. This blog is his attempt to catalog all the events that culminate a local writer's life.