I recently completed a 10-week advanced memoir writing class with a well-known writing school. I gained tons of valuable tips for my memoir: how to find the right balance between action and reflection, how to create engaging dialogue and how to end a memoir with just the right amount of open-endedness and closure (A tricky balance to find!).
While I walked away with new writing skills, the real takeaway was that I didn’t have to be perfect. Here’s the story:
My writing instructor was (and still is) brilliant: sharp, witty and unafraid to tell you when you should cut a word, sentence or section. Every week, she’d send out thought-provoking announcements, actively participate in our discussion boards and give lots of feedback on my writing homework. It was clear why she was so well-published and regarded – she was a dream come true!
The second week into my studies, I saw one of her posts had two typos in it. I thought, Huh. Maybe she was rushing? Perhaps it was a tough week? I wasn’t judging her; it was more like curiosity and a bit of tenderness toward her. When I make a typo, I can’t help but beat myself up. Danielle, how could you? What will people think? You’re a writer. You’re a professor. You should be better than this. I didn’t want the same self-annihilating mindset for this amazingly talented woman whom I deeply respected.
Week three rolled around and I saw another typo, and then another, and another. Only little errors, a missing word here and there, maybe a word lacking its apostrophe. The mistakes weren’t distracting, just subtle enough to notice.
Despite these small blunders, her feedback remained top notch – supportive yet critical. I found this a bit perplexing. With such credible work, why would she be making these errors? But over the weeks, as I received valuable guidance regularly, it finally dawned on me: My instructor knows her talents and her strengths. She’s confident in the value of her words and knows she doesn’t need to be perfect to be of great service.
I thought about the freedom this instructor must have felt when she didn’t over-edit her words. I thought about the extra time she gained by choosing not to worry about a missing word here or there. And I thought about how our perceived mistakes can be a gift to others.
I’m taking my instructor’s gift and am applying it to my writing now too, so if you happen to come across any grammatical errors within these newsletters, I want you to know it’s a sign of my confidence.
With that, have fun making mistakes.
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PS – Here’s an affirmation to help you along your ‘I don’t have to be perfect’ journey: “I value learning more than I value being right.”
PPS – Does it feel like your need for perfection controls your time and energy? Spend a few minutes journaling. Here’s a prompt: What would life feel like if you released yourself from perfectionism? What would you be able to accomplish if you adopted a ‘done and not perfect’ mentality?