I confess. I collect fortune cookie fortunes. The good ones, that is. One of my favorites is “Mistakes bring experience. Experiences bring wisdom.” to which I added, “Then make as many mistakes as you can.” Or as John Scalzi once told the ArmadilloCon Writer’s Workshop class, “Dare to suck.” Human beings learn best through trial and error, you see. And if there’s a time when trial and error is important, it’s during a creative endeavor. No creative does everything perfect the first time. In fact, nothing kills creativity faster than perfectionism. Creativity is dangerous, you see. Therefore, the best, most successful creative environments are child-proofed nests designed exclusively for risk-taking.* For writers, the creative environment is their own skull. Fill the brain case to the brim with negative criticism, and you might as well quit now and save yourself the abuse.
If creativity is the path you’ve chosen, I recommend trying to think about mistakes differently. Don’t think “I screwed up. That’s bad.” Think, “I successfully discovered what doesn’t work.” because ultimately, that’s what you did.
Let’s face it. Creativity isn’t for weaklings or cowards. It’s terrifying. It means stepping off a nice safe perch and having faith that somehow, some way, your foot is going to land on the damned dock before the ship sinks even though you’ve drowned five or six times before. Foolish risk? Hell yes. That’s the point. It’s being Indiana Jones and making it up as you go along — all the while knowing full well how much is at stake and knowing that 90% of the time you fail. It’s also one part strip-tease because in a sense you’re laying yourself bare and not for just one or two people, but for anyone that picks up that piece you wrote. No one understands the horror of that until they’ve published on a large scale. (I know I didn’t.) The trouble is, you have to toughen up because you’re going to get knocked about. At the same time, you can’t toughen up too much or you lose touch with the intimacy that is so vital to the craft. It’s like love that way. You’re going to be hurt. That’s reality. But to experience love you have to be vulnerable to hurt. The terrifying part is the more often you’re hurt the harder it becomes to take risks. Nonetheless, like love and life in general, I feel it’s worth the pain and embarrassment.
At least I do now. Ask me again in ten years.
*Which is why whenever Marketing statistics are overly-used in artistic/creative circles the venture is doomed to failure. It how Hollywood has gotten stale. They keep looking for the “perfect” formula, the blockbuster, the sure-fire safe formula. If there were such a formula, it would’ve been discovered long before now. Both the problem and the beauty of people as a whole is that we’re so damned complicated.