Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog PLUS It Takes Practice to Make Mistakes

So part of my job is teaching residents (MD’s who are in the midst of years long “on the job” training for the specialty they chose) how to evaluate people for alcohol, tobacco, and illicit substance use in an effort to identify risk and reduce harm. While the techniques are simple, there’s a great deal of subtlety required to really pull them off seamlessly. Our team does the training over a series of lectures and interactive sessions with role plays and standardized patients because we know it takes time to internalize the skills. Mastering the “brief intervention” literally takes weeks, months, and even years of practice. Even so, many of the residents struggle with this. They get angry with themselves if they don’t get it right the first time. Then they get demoralized and feel, well, like crap.

Any of this sound familiar? I think so. The “rules” of writing can seem simple enough on first blush, but somehow they become impossible when you try to carry them all out.

In medicine, there is the adage, “See one, do one, teach one.” You get one shot to do something perfectly. One. Shot. You better do it right, or you will suffer the humiliation of defeat. And your attending (aka boss) will rip you up one side and down the other. No pressure. *faints* (The culture is changing, but it’s changing slowly, so I endured this hell as a medical student, but was luckily spared from it during residency. HOWEVER, the mentality remained and I believe I put undue pressure on myself because of it. But enough about me, let’s return to the post.)

Needless to say, using the do-it-perfectly-the-first-time-or-else approach to writing doesn’t really work very well. Lemme tell you, it required a WHOLE paradigm shift for me to really understand this.

When I learned making mistakes were part of the process–hell, when I learned making mistakes was expected–I nearly passed out from shock. Cautiously, I dabbled with the idea of “letting” myself make mistakes. At first it felt strange. Uncomfortable. Like putting on wet clothes straight out of the washing machine. (Weird right? I know!)

I gotta admit, I still had perfection as a goal. I “allowed” myself mistakes as long as I went back and repaired them. All of them. Then I realized I learned MORE from my mistakes than I could from what I did right. Holy. Crap. I became a better writer because of my mistakes?



So, gang, what do you think about making writing mistakes?


I kicked off the traveling blog tour with this post. This week, Lydia shares her favorite book(s) from childhood.

Every Wednesday

12 comments on “Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog PLUS It Takes Practice to Make Mistakes

  1. Ciara Knight says:

    I know mistakes are part of the process. I’ve learned to accept and grow from them. Great post!

  2. Kathee J says:

    Great post – all the mistakes we learn from, are the things we are less likely to do again. Remember when you’ve overused your favorite word in a manuscript, do a search, then vow never to use it again!

    I also like the idea of see it (read as many books as you can get your hands on) then do it (write one, then rewrite ad nauseum) then teach it (critiquing for others is extremely rewarding – especially when they listen to you – haha)


  3. vtremp says:

    Awesome post! I’ve heard that adage before (I used to work with medical students), and never really thought about the pressure it adds to be perfect. I know from speaking a foreign language in a foreign country that we learn from mistakes. Unfortunately, humiliation adds to the power of the message.

    OMG, can you imagine trying to get a first draft perfect? Yikes. It would take years.


  4. Lydia K says:

    “See one, do one, teach one” so doesn’t translate to writing, LOL! It should be more like, “Write one, and then another, and then another… Keep learning, teach and learn along the way…uh, where were we?”

  5. lbdiamond says:

    Ciara–learning to accept mistakes is tough, I think. BUT sooooo worth it!

    Kathee–I agree, critiquing others’ work and having yours critiqued is a great way to learn.

    VB–a perfect first draft??? Yikes!! 😉

    Lydia–no, the see one, do one, teach one does not apply to writing. Thank goodness!

  6. Carol Ann Hoel says:

    Oh, you are so right about making mistakes. I can read how-to advice everywhere and still not recognize that I am making the same mistake. Until, that is, someone points it out in my writing. Flash! The light comes on. Like you, I hate making mistakes. I love your analogy: like putting on wet clothing. When I see I’ve made a mistake, I feel the wet clothing clinging to my body. Blessings to you…

  7. Thank goodness writing allows more than one try — I do many full revisions on each novel!

    Great post! I knew interning (residenting?) was bad, but not that bad. Shudder.

  8. I’ve been scanning pages of my book and I still find mistakes. This after numerous revisions and an editor. Argghhh!!! Well, I’m still learning.

  9. I totally agree with making mistakes makes a better writer. Sometimes, those mistakes lead to unexpected places that improve a story. Other times…

    I’m so glad I don’t have someone standing over my shoulder watching me, ready to rip me up one side and down the other for every mistake I make while writing.

  10. Wow that is a big difference. But then again, I guess you can keep the manuscript alive a lot longer on the operating table. Okay I’m done with the bad metaphor now. Sorry!

  11. I think the biggest writing mistake someone can make is to not let themselves make mistakes.

    First drafts are not for perfection. Yes, some writers produce cleaner first drafts than others, but it’s not a race. The end product does not at ALL reflect the level of “perfection” in the first draft.

    Fear of making mistakes can be crippling–and letting go of that fear and just wading in hip-deep can be the most liberating and awesome feeling in the world.

  12. Indigo says:

    It took me awhile to comphrehend I wasn’t going to get it perfect the first time out. I thought my first book would be a masterpiece. Ha! Three books in and struggling with revisions, all I can say is time and practice hones a writer.

    We learn from our mistakes. Learning I believe is half the process. (Hugs)Indigo

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