Mistakes: It's Okay to Make Them
When I was a kid, I not only learned I couldn’t slant my letters while writing cursive (I’m left-handed) but also that I didn’t say many words correctly. I had to see a speech therapist regularly from pre-kindergarten through fourth grade after being a poster child for ear infections and getting two sets of tubes in my ears.
Needless to say, I had some catching up to do. Even at that age, I learned to keep pushing forward. I have no problem chatting with anyone now, so the many years of speech therapy clearly helped, and I send lots of cards out annually and still can’t slant my letters, but I also have a love of words and how they’re communicated. I’ve never obsessed on these things otherwise, or allowed them to slow me down.
It seems today we’re moving so fast that many writers fear they’ll make a mistake or that one mistake will prevent them from ever getting published. Today everyone wants immediate results, and for some, a lack of results in a small window of time equals failure. This is not a healthy mindset for any writer who seeks publication, and it should be understood that mistakes will happen.
If it’s any comfort, agents and editors make mistakes too. And if we can still work with books, then the people who are writing them should hopefully feel better. We’ve all had errors in our pitches and writing, written to someone only to realize it went to the wrong person, and/or done editorial notes and left out important information. We’ve taken out projects when we truly believed they were ready, only to step back and revise before taking out again. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I thought I was talking to someone specific at a conference, only to realize it was someone else. (Thankfully I get along well with most people, so it’s a win-win every time.)
Writers, please don’t allow mistakes to be the primary reason you stop writing. Instead embrace those mistakes and learn from them.
- If you have a few spelling errors in your query letter, don’t panic. Just ensure future query letters reflect those corrections.
- If you accidentally address a pitch to an agent by the wrong name, generally most of us will not be offended, just make sure to double check names on your next round of queries.
- If you’ve sent an agent your book for consideration, unless there are significant changes, it’s fine to not send an updated version. If it’s absolutely essential they see the newest version (and hopefully final one for them to read), send an email and check in with them.
- If you query an agent while they’re closed to queries, just query again when they’re open to submissions.
No one is going to tell any writer that making a mistake = no chance of ever getting published. Literally being a writer means a willingness to take risks, to tell a story, and to edit a book until it’s ready for readers someday. This can take a year to many years. Plus, there’s not one published writer who didn’t make a mistake along the way. We all have.
My goal for writers is to not obsess over mistakes, to keep an open mind, and to learn from them along the way. Never allow this to affect your confidence, let alone your ability to become the best writer you can be. As Nikki Giovanni aptly shared, “Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to error that counts.”