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Be kind to your mistakes

April 16th, 2010

I love being a writing tutor. But every job has its down sides and a down side of tutoring is having to tell keen aspiring writers where they’re going wrong.

We all make mistakes – even those of us who’ve been in the business for years – but it strikes me that we writers tend to be excessively hard on ourselves when we plant a wayward foot or two on literary ground, much more so than any other hobbyists or professionals in their chosen fields. I’ve seen it in young or inexperienced editorial staff when I’ve worked at magazine offices too. We take it to heart when told something’s not quite right. We feel nervy about writing something new. We toy with packing it all in and taking up knitting or accountancy.

The writer Samuel Smiles said that ‘he who never made a mistake never made a discovery’ and if, as the romantics hold, writing is a voyage of discovery, then writing must also be a voyage of mistakes.

And that is exactly as it should be. Because we learn from our mistakes. We should be fearless about making them, unashamed of them when we do, and proud to have subsequently improved because of them.

This is the philosophy underpinning Mistakes Writers Make, my new blog for students and upcoming writers of non-fiction, the motivation for which has been seeing too many good writers stifled and embarrassed by fair, constructive and essential criticism over the years.

It shouldn’t be this way. Because there’s no avoiding mistakes. We will all be making them until we retire. But what I hope to do with my blog is enable you to reduce them to occasional, blue-moon events – to tip the balance massively in favour of writing rights over writing wrongs.

So, every few days or so I will ‘out’ a common mistake, explain why it’s a problem, and try to show you how to put it right.

I hope you take something from the blog – even if it’s nothing more than that it’s okay, actually rather good, and important, to make mistakes.

And don’t forget to tell me when you spot one of mine…

Alex Gazzola

The Mistakes Writers Make blog is at http://mistakeswritersmake.blogspot.com and at Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/writersmistakes

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