I don’t make mistakes when I write. I make spontaneous creative decisions.
At least, that’s what I like to tell myself. We all make mistakes when we write or work on a creative project. Typos, grammatical errors, mistyping a character’s name, or even letting the narrative wander off into the weeds.
My question is: are these spontaneous creative decisions the result of sloppiness and not paying attention, or is our imagination, our creativity, trying to get us to do something different?
My reasoning is that not all mistakes are bad.
There is a long list of great things that were created by mistake. Penicillin tops the list. Alexander Fleming only discovered it when he began throwing away his experiments after giving up on finding a cure-all drug.
Writing fiction isn’t quite in the same league as a life-saving drug, but the same thought applies. I know that I’ve made mistakes when working on rough drafts that I almost discarded before realizing that my story was now going in a new direction. In one case the story deviated wildly from my original idea but was now better than I had hoped.
Of course, mistakes don’t always lead to innovation and new directions. Sometimes they’re just mistakes. Even then, I feel that mistakes can still be beneficial because I can learn from them. Adding a secondary character to a story to help drive the plot may end up making a mess of things. I end up having to rewrite a thousand words or so to exorcise the error and, in the end, I learn to think about the repercussions of adding new characters to a story in progress.
But even little mistakes, those tiny flaws that escape our notice during those endless editing cycles, aren’t necessarily bad. Sometimes imperfections give a piece of art something unique. Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to fiction. A mistake on a page can be a distraction, pulling the reader out of the story.
Which, as a side note, I find interesting. Why is it that a flaw in a painting is acceptable but a flaw in a story isn’t? It seems that imperfections in most art forms are okay up to a point, but never in a work of fiction.
Regardless, mistakes are bound to happen. We are imperfect creatures. The key is to recognize a mistake when we make one, see if the error actually does any good, and if not, to learn from it so we don’t do it again.