Search THE READING ROOM

Friday, June 17, 2011

First-time writer? It's okay to make mistakes. Here's why

Many young people I know have a problem with writing. They worry they are not good enough. They feel they have nothing to say. They think they wouldn't know how to begin. And they spend hours staring at a blank screen when it comes time to start work on a writing assignment.

Often the thing many novice writers are afraid of most is making mistakes. And that seems to lead to some kind of brain-freeze. But it is by making mistakes that you learn (especially if you want to be a journalist), so it's no biggie, really. Which is what I have been saying repeatedly to my students. Now I have come across a fascinating collection of "writerly wisdom of the ages" which features a post that should be very helpful for first-time writers because it explains succinctly why you should make mistakes, lots of them. The author of this particular post, John Reed, a communication expert who believes that the best way to write is with enthusiastic, mistake-laden abandon, offers some sensible advice:

Save the editing for after the writing. If you edit your thoughts before you get them down on paper or onto your computer you’ll squeeze the life out of your message. You may even choke it off completely. Don’t just sit there, staring at your blank page, struggling to come up with the perfect opening. If you do, nothing will seem good enough. Instead, start writing. Write anything. Write something that you don’t even like that much. Write something full of half-baked ideas, awkward wording, and other mistakes.

Reed says that you should write the way you clean out a closet and then he explains what to do with your mistakes after you've made them. Read the post in its entirety here. And, afterwards, never again fear a writing assignment.