Sunny Side of Mistakes

Update:  In class on Tuesday, the instructor of my writing class told us what to do with the rules we have learned so far:  learn and understand them…and then forget them and write the story.  Yay!  I’m free!

Now to today’s post…

Several days ago, the local news stations broadcast a story about a guy who robbed a convenience store with a plastic bag over his head.  Yes, a PLASTIC bag.  Mid-robbery, he apparently started to suffocate and had to rip the bag so he could breathe.  He’s now (in) famous – his face has been on several evening newscasts since then. (True story – if you don’t believe me, Google “plastic bag robber”.)  I bet he regrets his answer to “would you like paper or plastic?”

After I stopped laughing, I wondered if this story held any lessons that could benefit me (other than the obvious:  if I decide to rob a convenience store, think “green” and use paper or reusable.)  In keeping with my blog theme, I’m refering to my writing self, and here’s what I came up with:

Have a solid plan – (had the robber thought through his plan, he may have realized – and corrected – the deficiencies.)  Have a story idea and think it through.  It can be as simple as knowing the beginning and ending to writing chapter summaries to detailed and structured scene plans.  (If you lean toward being super-organized, check out DarkSculptures Thinks for informative “how-to” posts on novel planning.)

Be flexible / prepare for the unexpected(had the robber contemplated near suffocation or damage to the bag, he might have brought a ski mask for back up.)  As you write characters, you may find out that some scenes, or even the ending you planned, have to be changed to be consistent with their character.  That’s okay – go with it.  This happened to me on Kharma’s Way.  When the characters developed, I realized that my ending wasn’t going to work because a character would’ve done something that did not match the behavior throughout the rest of the story.  Instead of forcing it, I let the characters present an alternative ending.

Learn from mistakes(the robber may have figured out it’s easier to get a job, or, if nothing else, he realized that plastic isn’t the best disguise.)  If a story falls flat, do an autopsy on it – critically review it to find out why.  As a writer, it can be hard to do this yourself, so here’s another time when readers come in handy.  Focus on the weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

Listen to others – (I have to think that the robber heard it before – maybe from his own mother – that plastic should be kept away from the face.  Mama was right…again.)  I’m not saying to jump in and change everything that a reader comments on, but if more than one person zeros in on the same thing, it should be reviewed so you can make a conscious decision about whether or not a change needs to happen.

Don’t dwell on mistakes – Mistakes can sometimes be painful and embarrassing.  They can hold you back and make you shy away from a challenge, or they can be a motivator for improvement – you choose. 

Just remember, it could be worse….

You could be in jail watching yourself on the news with a ripped plastic bag on your head 🙂


10 thoughts on “Sunny Side of Mistakes

  1. Maimoona Rahman October 14, 2010 / 6:59 AM

    Hm, interesting how you draw a set of writing rules from a failed robbery. I especially like yur last sentence (too lazy to quote it). I also love Sammay and Lizzy very much. And Queen too. Give my love to your kitties.

    • jannatwrites October 14, 2010 / 6:01 PM

      I know the correlation doesn’t make sense, but that’s how my mind works (or doesn’t work).

      Gave the kitties extra hugs for you 🙂

    • nrhatch October 15, 2010 / 11:51 AM

      When we “listen” . . . anything in life can be our guide. Even stupid robbers with plastic bags over their tiny brains.

  2. Cities of the Mind October 14, 2010 / 3:57 PM

    All good advice…and WOW what an idiot!

    • jannatwrites October 14, 2010 / 6:03 PM

      Thanks! All adivce you probably already knew, but it was fun putting it together anyway. Yeah, his antics fall under the ‘don’t try this at home’ category.

  3. Ollin October 16, 2010 / 1:39 PM

    Haha! That’s funny. Great way to pull all those lessons out of this situation, though. All very great tips that everyone should follow! Great Janna! 🙂

    • jannatwrites October 16, 2010 / 6:28 PM

      The story had me laughing for days (but my sense of humor is a bit off) – happy you enjoyed it too! They aren’t inspirational like what you provide, but at least they can provide a few moments of entertainment 🙂

  4. darksculptures October 17, 2010 / 12:56 PM

    I love it! The story and the way you molded it into a great post about writing. You have a clever way about you that makes all of your post a joy to read.

    Also, thank you for the shout-out, that was very nice.

    • jannatwrites October 17, 2010 / 3:58 PM

      Thanks for the compliment, DarkSculptures! It’s good to know that most of my posts aren’t complete torture 🙂

      I’ve admired your posts on novel planning, but I’m a little to set in my semi-scattered ways to fully adopt them, but I know they can help others!

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