the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Tag: mistakes

Making the Same Mistakes

by MDY

I haven’t been writing well lately. I find myself repeating the errata of my younger self: telling not showing; over-complicated plot settings; dialogue. I’ve been struggling particularly with action-based pieces: the sort where war amputees fend off zombies, or young girls hunt down vampires. “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Fast-paced plot used to be one of my strengths, but it seems to have atrophied out of years of disuse and more touchy-feely pieces. “Use it or lose it.” My work (as in professional work, not literary oeuvre) is suffering too: I repeat myself, obfuscate, resort to gross similes where I should be aiming for precision. But unlike in my personal life, these mistakes reflect a desire to change rather than an inability to do so.

It’d be all too easy to get comfortable in “my style”, in writing the way I’ve become good at doing. But I want to write stories with both flamethrowers and heart. I need to stop relying on description and metaphor to prop up my characters. Writing is an act of retrospective: you only realise what you’ve done when you read it back, never during the writing itself. Which means suffering through the same mistakes, again and again, until you can find a better way or make one. It’s an inefficient but ultimately edifying process. In all probability, the only thing harder than righting your writing is righting your self.

Rewriting Everything

by MDY

There are some things which cannot be salvaged. Being able to identify these “irreparables” is a matter of painful experience: there’s no more heartbreaking lesson than spending days trying to correct a piece of prose and finding it even worse off by the end. The only solution is to kill what you have birthed, and recreate it anew. My most recent short started out as a vignette of international migration and intergenerational incomprehension; but the premise itself (stamp-shopping and coffee in Geneva) was so bland that the dialogue and description simply had nothing to support them. So I killed everything past the first “boat” scene – which I knew worked, because it was different versions of me spliced into a single scenario and when you’re writing yourself you tend to capture the truth of things far more achingly than otherwise. And then I spun it out into something completely different. I used to be a fearful kid – fearful of deep water, and caterpillars, and making mistakes. I still am, but I realise other people are too. Our best art – and our best decisions – often stem from knowing when to hold on and when to let go and when to come back once more.

How not to make mistakes

by MDY

I screwed up this week. Made a mistake which, had it been allowed to, would’ve cost a lot of people dearly. Honest admission and good advice minimised the damage, but the screw-up itself still hurt. The feeling was like a worm in the gut, a worm with tiny metal jaws slowly gnawing its way through your stomach lining and up towards your quavering, juicy heart. If I’d been a superhero, I might have been able to reach into my vital organs and pinch the worm out with my forefinger and thumb with a stoic look upon my marble-cut features. But I’m not a superhero; I make mistakes and write about them.

We all make mistakes, and we all address them with varying degrees of success. Here’s what I’ve learnt from my and others’ experience:

  • Don’t just act on autopilot.
  • Keep things in perspective.
  • Spell-check is not always your friend.
  • Stay calm. Perspective helps (see above).
  • Ask people more experienced than you for advice. Take it.
  • Caffeine is not ever your friend.
  • Don’t do. Think. Then do. Then think. etc, etc
  • All that glitters is not gold, so don’t assume it is.
  • Winning oratory doesn’t translate well to email.
  • Tempus argentumque fugiunt.
  • “What are your choices when someone puts a gun to your head? You take the gun, or pull out a bigger one. Or you call their bluff. Or you do any one of a hundred and forty six other things.”
  • It’s not the end of the world until it’s the end of the world.

This is obviously not a comprehensive guide, but if you’ve messed up recently, or are afraid you have/will, hope it helps.