Mistake or Opportunity?

February 15, 2011

In general, people like to avoid mistakes. Who likes being wrong? Who likes taking something for what it’s not? (I enjoy breaking words down: mis-take = a wrong take. If there are any etymologists out there, I’m sorry 😉 ).  

I’ve never been terribly fond of them, myself. All through school, I strove to keep my papers and tests free of the things like they were plague-infested rats. Then I had a high school teacher who, on the first day, instructed us all to pick up our mistakes and hug them, to appreciate them for all that they taught us.

How I pictured my mistakes.

At the time, it was just awkward to be clutching a handful of air to my chest. But as time wears on, I’ve been finding myself thinking about her words more and more often. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. They span the gamut from typos to full-on diplomatic incidents.

But they help us grow.

If I wrote a novel that had no mistakes (not one, nothing that could be improved in characterization, plotting, theme, or copyedits), then I really wouldn’t be able to write a better book. At best, the next one I wrote would be just as good. More likely, it would be worse. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to keep producing work that is “just as good.” I want to learn and apply new skills and experience. I want to dive deeper. I want to get better. 

All of that happens through making mistakes. If something works, you tend to use the same method the next time. I do, anyway. But if something fails, you’re forced to find an alternative, a new perspective. Your base of experience widens, and you grow.

On a purely pragmatic note, mistakes can also be fertile ground for innovation. I’m thinking specifically of writing here, and even more specifically of planning stories. As a teenager, I wrote a rather derivative fantasy. However, during the planning stage, I accidentally called my country’s capital by two different names. Rather than just choosing one, I cast about for an idea to explain why it had two different names. What I came up with turned out to be the point on which the plot turned, and was probably one of the novel’s few redeeming qualities.

All because of a mistake.

Or as I start planning this next novel. I’d like to explore further in the universe of Project W (my code-name for the novel that is now making the rounds… which now feels funny to type, as the title has been changed, and now starts with an H). And I’m finding that a lot of my ideas are coming from inconsistencies and threads that were laid down in the first book.

I think mistakes allow for so much growth because they are intrinsically unplanned. They therefore force you to be original. You have to come up with your own plan, rather than relying on someone else’s formula. And yes, that’s scary, but that’s what pushes us out of own comfort zone and into flight.

We cherish our successes so much, as we should… but our failures are so much more valuable.




  1. Excellent post, Arvik!

    If we aren’t making enough mistakes, we aren’t taking enough chances:


    Write on!

  2. How very true and insightful. I may have mentioned this before, but I had one story that was stuck, until the light bulb went off and while standing in line at the grocery store, suddenly said ‘I shot the wrong person!’ Seriously, all my stories have benefited from mistakes, not only in plot but also in improving craft. How boring life would be if our learning stagnated.

  3. Yes, it is important to learn and grown from mistakes. As a writer it only improves your self-editing and story creation.

  4. Sometimes it’s best to learn from someone else’s mistakes rather than your own. 😉

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