What to Do When You Make a Mistake – Part II.

Hello out there in the blogosphere. It’s me, Ollie, James’ Old English Sheepdog. James has been working away this morning, having gotten up super early. He wanted to get some editing done before we went for our walk. Why would James want to edit, you ask? Well, and this is not meant as a poor reflection on my loving companion, but he does make mistakes. (Looks like a post without any treats – darn!)

If you remember my prior post about mistakes we make in life, both dogs and humans, then you will find this post about the mistakes we make as writers. And, yes, I include myself in this group even though James does the typing for me. I’m still capable of making mistakes. (Double darn, I had hoped that would mean a treat. Oh, well.)

What types of mistakes and how do we fix them? Well, if I may begin at the beginning, which I’ve been told is a very good place to start, it commences when we first sit down to write. James uses the outline form for our and his writings. From there we begin to build out our first draft.

Having begun with an outline, the first mistake we usually make is trying too hard to stick to it. We (I’m being kind here by using the proverbial “we” since I need him to use his hands to type because my paws are too big for the keyboard.) then end up with a first draft that usually lacks pizzazz. It’s all facts and telling instead of being forceful and showing. The story, poem or blog sort of lies there on the page like I so often do around the house.

(Ollie lying around the house after a recent grooming.)

The “fix” for this is by showing instead of telling and allowing the creative tangents that crop up get fleshed out as some may provide the missing key to a successful story. Let your inner Panster come out to play. It’s only the first draft. Have some fun.

Another mistake James will make while speed typing out that first draft is spelling and grammatical errors. These are easy for James to overlook during the initial part of his writing. It allows his inner editor to relax and let the creative juices flow. So, if you think about it, these types of mistakes are okay when the process begins. Yet with each successive draft, more of these types of mistakes may occur if something relevant comes up and needs to be fleshed out. As such, James will, again, let his inner creative juices flow forth without hindrance.

The “fix” takes place when you go back and read your words after each writing spurt or editing phase. This should take place after each successive draft. It’s now time to correct the spelling and grammatical errors. Again, don’t worry about them while typing. If you do, you run the risk of stifling your creative talents.

Sometimes James has been known to bring a character into the story that he thinks will add to the plot. After carrying the individual throughout and building them texturally such that they can be seen clearly, it may become obvious to James that he’s gone off the deep end by adding an unrelated subplot.

The “fix” is simple: Take it out. Alternatively, take what is relevant to the story from this character and give it to a different, more appropriate character. Again, while it is easy for us to say it is simple, it may be difficult to cut story lines on which you’ve worked diligently. Set your ego aside for the benefit of the story. At least try to for the sake of the story.

Other times James decides to place his story or poem in a locale of which he knows nothing. He’ll research the area, but the reader will know that there is something about the locale that is not right. Especially when the area is critical to the plot and character development.

The “fix” involves making sure each story and its locale are well known – travel there and experience it for yourself. If you can’t travel there, watch movies or documentaries about the place and time. This type of research is invaluable to the believability of your story. Of course, if your local is make believe, then it must be make to come alive in the reader’s mind’s eye.

A critical mistake James sometimes makes is in thinking that his writing is spot on. There are times he doesn’t recognize that the poem or story or chapter or elements within them are irrelevant or simply not worth keeping.

The “fix” involves taking a break from the story. Walk away and do something completely different. The amount of time away will depend upon you. It could be an hour, a day, a week, etc. You decide. Then go when you are capable of recognizing what, if any, work should be removed and either deleting the line, paragraph, chapter, story or poem – that’s right, highlight and tap the “delete” tab, or drag and drop the whole piece into the trash. It’s not easy to do, but better that than wasting time trying to make it work when it won’t – move on to the next.

Image 3-8-16 at 7.47 AM
(Public domaine)

On occasion, James assume that a specific poem or story is complete; yet still not feel as if it is very good. He isn’t sure whether or not to keep or trash it. This can be quite common among writers, as they all second-guess themselves, questioning their ability. James “sort of,” “kind of” liked one of his poems, and submitted it, along with others, to a publication. The editors “loved” the one of which he was unsure. He learned a valuable lesson: Someone, somewhere will like what he’s written.

The “fix” is to have others read your material so they can let you know what they think — this is invaluable for every piece you write. And never stop writing — you have stories to tell, and there are millions of people who want to read/hear/see/taste/touch/smell them.

Which brings us to submissions. James sends his work out frequently, and receives many more declines than acceptances. These declines could be due to one or more factors other than the piece not being any good. One short story that is going to be publish soon had been declined by seven journals before finding a home. James assumed that every place he sent this short story would want to publish it. So why didn’t they?

The “fix” is to make sure the publication (journal, magazine, online) are appropriate for the topic. James has a story where a ghost possesses a parrot. Now this story wouldn’t be right for very many publications. Doing research on where it might fit is important. Yet even more important is making sure that you read, understand and apply the guidelines required. If the publication wants it in 12 point, Times New Roman, and double-spaced, don’t submit it single spaced in Courier at 10 points. If they tell you to put page numbers on the bottom right, don’t forget to put them in, or assume you’ll be the exception to the rule and put them at the top right. The easiest thing to do is to send an email to the editor with any questions you might have. James has always heard back from his queries. Of course, following these words of wisdom doesn’t mean your work will be accepted, but it won’t be declined from having not been read in the first place.

James and I would like to know if you’ve ever discovered you’ve made a writing mistake. If you have, what kind was it? That is if you’d feel comfortable sharing the details. Perhaps it was a different type from what we’ve listed above as this is not an exhaustive list. If so, please tell us. Also, what did you do to “fix” this mistake?

I always like hearing from you, so please feel free to leave a comment on this blog post about this or anything at all. (Oh, I got a treat – I love James.)

 Until next week,
Short Stories - Author Webpage Help Needed
Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm (you can call me Ollie)

Paw Prints courtesy of www.pawsitivelyloved.com
All photos © James Stack 2016 unless otherwise indicated

5 thoughts on “What to Do When You Make a Mistake – Part II.

  1. Oh yes, mistakes! I make a lot of them in life and as a writer. There’s a saying we writers often hear. “Kill your darlings.” Of course, that only applies to the worlds we create, not our friends and family (though sometimes we feel mad enough at them), and certainly not our furry friends. Ollie, I’m sure James would give you a treat for agreeing to that!

    It’s hard to realize that what we created and love so much needs revision or even to be trashed altogether. It’s painful, like we are cutting off a piece of ourselves.

    In reality, when I am willing to listen to those who beta read or edit my work, I learn valuable information about my writing. In each story or poem created there is a necessary theme, plot, nuance, voice or texture that must be so tightly woven that anyone who reads it will be drawn in. Our first, second, third…sometimes tenth drafts may not reach that pinnacle.

    As for rejections (James calls them declines) it’s important to know you won’t always get a yes. If you did, how could you know to keep trying and improving?

    My son is a college basketball coach. His team made it to second place, runners up, in their conference this year. They didn’t do that by just going into each game and playing without a lot of work beforehand. Not only did he and the other coaches make the team practice many, many times, Coach Wes and his boss the Head Coach and their assistant Brian worked on a lot of plays. They studied video of their team and other teams. They refined the plays they wanted their guys to use in games. A lot of the time they had to change up a play with a team in the middle of the game. If the coaches and players had not practiced those plays over and over, how would they be able to do that?

    Coach Wes has been writing and drawing up plays since he was ten years old. (He’s twenty six now, so he’s been at it a little while). He loves his play books. But he also knows that in some situations, with some teams he coaches or teams his guys play, many of them just don’t work. So, he has to “edit” the playbook for that particular time. He has to kill his darling plays. Some never get used because they don’t work. Some work in another setting.

    It’s okay to revise. It’s what makes us stronger. All the best writers have had to do it.

    Great post, Ollie and James!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Excellent blog post, James and Ollie, packed full of useful and helpful advice. The biggest mistake I made in my first manuscript was head hopping. I didn’t know much about writing back then, and as I learned more I realized the mistake I had made and had to go back in and rewrite each scene. It was a lot of work but I learned a lot along the way! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi – James had to look up Head Hopping – thanks for allowing us to educate ourselves. I’m under the impression that he doesn’t head hop – but you’ve inspired him to make sure during his next read through of his novel.

    You can teach a young dog and an old dog new tricks.


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