Make a thousand mistakes: make them quickly
As a writer I’m forever in conflict; forget the challenges of the external world, my mind is the problem. Each time I sit to work I’m engaged in a deranged form of Mental Chess.
In order to write I search for the best strategies to outmanoeuvre my own brain. I’m held back by a thousand fears: is this the right project, is it going in the right direction. The fear of a thousand mistakes. I might sit down and say to myself, ‘I’m going to write 500 words of brilliant prose.’ But no…
That’s an impossible goal.
Alright, I might write 500 words of such power and beauty they will mover all who read them to tears. That would be nice. But can I guarantee it? No, it doesn’t matter who you are, even if you’re the greatest writer to have ever lived and breathed on this Earth.
As a writer I think part of the problem is the environment I work in: so often isolated; in my own head.
Let me explain.
Say you’re a football player (Bear with me, here) and imagine there’s a chance to make a shot on goal. What do you do?
You kick the ball towards the net.
You don’t stop. You don’t stand there, thinking: You know what, maybe this isn’t best angle. You don’t stall and consider: I’m not sure the route I took across the pitch was the best, so I’ll go back and start over.
The situation simply doesn’t allow it.
As a writer things different. Sitting at my desk, I can stop. I have ample opportunity to stop what I’m doing even if I’m close to my own goals and stare at the wall, to waste my time rearranging papers. I can open YouTube, Facebook, or I can start backtracking and editing when I know I’ve promised to set time aside to produce new material.
I can do these things. Far too often, in fact. In my discipline, unlike sport, it’s possible to stop mid-way through and start questioning why I’m here, or what I’m doing.
This is a mistake.
Reflecting (editing, for example) is important. But I like to think about reflecting and creating as a naked flame and room full of pure hydrogen gas (hint: don’t mix them).
So often I admonish myself (somewhat scathingly): ‘If you’d only kept writing, instead of a head full of existential doubt, you’d have a finished novel. That you could be restructuring, editing, perfecting.’
Writing new material and editing should be kept two distinct, and separate activities. Why would anyone stop to worry if the piece is ‘going in the right direction?’ when the goal is a mere 500 words, or 20 minutes?
Do you see my point?
More importantly, do I see my point?
— S. D. Parsons (@s_d_parsons) April 10, 2017
If you imagine, for a moment, that we each had to make a thousand mistakes before we got where we wanted to be: would you want to make them slowly?
The best plan, then, if we’re going to make a thousand mistakes: make them quickly, without hesitation, and with full confidence in yourself.