An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.
–Niels Bohr, Danish scientist
I love this quote, because it keeps me humble. I’m not an expert yet, but I’m working at it.
Mistakes can be a hugely valuable learning tool. I embrace that philosophy now, but for the longest time, I sought perfection instead of allowing myself to fail with forgiveness. I sought the ‘silver bullet’ of writing. I took every course, read every writing self-help book, and absorbed the words of every lecturer believing that I simply needed to find the right piece of wisdom and success would be mine.
I’ll let you in on a secret—it doesn’t work that way. There is no silver bullet of writing, no miraculous writing technique that will take you over the bridge into publication.
That’s not to say that writers don’t need to know their craft. They do. None of the time I spent seeking the silver bullet and learning to write was wasted. There’s always more you can learn, always more you can do to improve your craft. BUT…in my fear of making mistakes, in my single-minded drive for perfection, I ignored my role in the writing process. I spent little or no time assessing my own style and my own voice.
Yet, if I could name one thing that I believe took me from unpublished to published, it would be voice. Once I stopped trying to write the perfect book and focused instead on writing a book only I could write, I sold. Once I stopped aiming for perfection and gave myself permission to make all sorts of errors—as long as they my errors—my writing developed its own identity.
Because of that, I’d list this quote as one of my favorites:
If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.
–Tallulah Bankhead, American actress