If you’re going to write a good book, you have to make mistakes and you have to not be so cautious all the time.
-– Zadie Smith
My son was a little over 11 months old when he took his first steps. He was in the living room, contentedly playing with his Shrek toy and I step around the corner, doing the multi-tasking mommy thing, to the kitchen to finish breakfast.
The happy babbling-baby chatter silenced and I peeked around the corner to check on him. He stood in the middle of the living room floor, balanced, with arms outstretched, an expression of complete concentration on his tiny, adorable face. He glanced down at his feet and put his left foot out front. He paused, wobbled a bit, then moved the right foot. Pure joy spread across his features and he put his tiny hands together and started to clap. At that moment, he also caught sight of me in the doorway.
Between the clapping and my unexpected appearance, he lost concentration and fell back on his bottom. His eyes swelled with tears and his lower lip poked out but he twisted onto his knees, used the table to push himself back up and balanced once again.
He was less certain and it was all I could do not to rush in and rescue my little heart and soul but I held my ground. He glanced at me again and then looked away; stared down at his feet and with an in-drawn breath, lifted his left foot again. Pause. Lift right. Pause. Lift. Stumble. . .
. . . back on the bottom.
A meme recently came across my Facebook newsfeed, I don’t know the author but that the truth of the words rang true for me:
When a child learns to walk and falls down 50 times, he never thinks to himself: “Maybe this isn’t for me.”
That morning, weeks shy of his 1st birthday, that determined man-child of mine, rolled back over to his knees. This time, he straightened himself up without aid and then balanced. He didn’t look at me but he turned his little body in my direction.
I held my breath.
Balance. Left forward. Pause. Right forward. Wobble. Left forward. Pause.
That baby took ten steps towards me and on the last one, threw himself into my arms. We both cried and celebrated his success. Who’d have thought I’d spend the next thirteen years telling my little heart and soul to get somewhere and sit down.
But I digress.
Zadie Smith is absolutely right. When we set a goal to write a novel, we have committed ourselves to a monumental task. Anyone who has written a novel knows that the book doesn’t get written the way our future readers read it. The process isn’t linear, at least not for me. I started out with one story in mind and before I knew it, the story had twisted and turned, characters showed up and others disappeared. Plot ideas developed holes wide enough to drive a truck through, and on and on.
But we can’t let that stop us or give in to self doubt.
- Expect to make mistakes. That’s part of the process and is a factor in how to make your novel great. Toddlers seem to have an innate understanding that falls do not mean failure. They keep going until the movements are perfected.
- Make your mistakes the stepping stone to the next success. Remember? After awhile, my little man didn’t need the assistance of the table to balance himself.
- During the early drafts of your story, keep other people out. Steven King said to close the door. Though I was a silent but hopeful cheerleading witness to my son’s early efforts, my presence was a distraction. It wasn’t until he’d mastered his goal that I was included in the celebration.
Step out. Don’t be afraid to fall on your bottom. Get back up. Balance . . .
. . . and keep writing!