Chicago / modernity / writing

Mistakes

Today, someone I really admire stood up in front of a meeting and talked about the importance of making mistakes. I think this might be the key to what I’ve been feeling lately–the insecurity that’s been nagging at me.

I was not raised to be ok with making mistakes, and I usually stuck with paths where I knew I wouldn’t make them. I choose to pursue things I’m good at. I’m also a copyeditor, for God’s sake. It’s not in my nature to let a small mistake slip by. I guess in a way, you could argue that English is the ultimate no-mistake major, because literary criticism can absorb all kinds of bullshit theories and still come out ok. Not that I really agree with this view, since arguments in English should be well-crafted things of beauty, and in that sense you can make HUGE mistakes.

But getting back to the point. Going to a high-pressure school like this, I think we become used to taking the assured, if not easy, route. That’s why all those Communist agitators on the quad hardly ever get anyone to stop and talk to them. We know that we can probably succeed if we stick to the path we’ve set for ourselves.There’s no need to feel deeply discontent and want a major upheaval of our worlds. Making mistakes is not ok anymore, not in this economy, not at this school (accidentally reveal you don’t know much about Foucault or have never read Milan Kundera to a UChicago student and risk eternal ostracization).

This is probably why I haven’t been writing here as much as I should, and it’s also probably why I haven’t been able to write creatively for a while. It doesn’t help that I’ve been on a hot streak grade-wise, and I’m more than cautious now with my writing, too afraid to jeopardize the good thing I have going. It’s not that I can’t actually produce the words. I’m just afraid that people won’t like what I write–that one bad post or failed attempt at a short story will reflect on me as a writer, as a scholar, and as a person.

But to be obsessed with perfection is to doom yourself, because any writing I do will be human in the end and therefore riddled with potential imperfections. I’ll never be able to move on if I’m too afraid of failing to even set fingers to keyboard.

That’s the whole idea behind NaNoWriMo, and even though it’s not November and NaNoWriMo itself is way too time-consuming for me to take on at this point in my life, I’m going to try and be ok with making mistakes, with writing mediocre material at times, because the idea is simply to get myself in the habit of producing something, so that someday soon it will be something refined, something beautiful.

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