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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Embrace Mistakes to Sidestep Writer’s Block


Mistakes are a sign of success in the making.

Writers hate to make mistakes in print and the fear of that is a common source of resistance. But Niels Bohr defined an expert as a person who “has made all the mistakes that can be made in a narrow field.”

I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I don’t think I’m anywhere near making all the mistakes possible as a writer. Or as a teacher or coach. I’m not sure I’ll ever be a full expert, but I do want to achieve more mastery as a writer, teaching artist and coach. So I guess I’ll just have to keep making mistakes.

I hope to make a fair amount of progress along with those mistakes; I don’t want to make only mistakes. The challenge is that you can’t always tell what move will be a mistake before you take it. If you do recognize a mistake in advance, you’ve probably learned all you can from that one. It’s time to move on, try new things and discover new good moves by making new mistakes.

Mistakes are the tuition to being able learning from your mistakes. Sometimes you need to make the same mistake a couple of times to learn the full lesson.

Mistakes are essential for learning. The small discomfort we experience (because of a drop in dopamine when the anterior cingulate cortex registers the mistake) is part of how the brain learns which patterns to repeat, which to avoid.

You might think that the opposite of “mistake” is “correct” or “getting it right,” but I suggest that the true opposite of “mistake” is “entropy” or “being dead.”

So I hereby announce my intention to learn from my mistakes before publishing a post when possible, acknowledge that I will not be able to foresee and revise all errors, and ask you to turn a kind eye to my mistakes. In return, I promise that embracing my trials and errors will make it easier for you to accept and embrace your own.

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