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?