Oops, I Did It Again
I grew up with a fear of making a mistake when it came to writing. My father was a lawyer and my mother was a writer. It was okay to eat food that had fallen on the floor, but a dropped comma was something else, so the fact that I have an inadequately edited document for sale on more than one web address is like…is like…is like nothing. What I learned growing up was it would be better for me to walk down the street naked than to hand in a paper that contained a typo. At least I could go home and get dressed when the show was over. A published error is forever.
And yet I let it happen. I self-published. I didn’t hire an editor. I’m not even sure I read through the final draft with a fine-toothed comb. Oh, let’s be honest: I didn’t even read through it with a rake. I just wanted it out there before I changed my mind and shoved the whole thing in a drawer.
My book You Don’t Look Adopted is full of errors. I don’t want to give you specifics. If you want proof, you can read it and highlight them yourself. I think I might go insane if I actually came face to face with them en masse.
When I was a teacher, I would get an awful rush of adrenalin when I’d write comments on a student’s paper, in ink, and spell a word incorrectly. (I was going to type wrong there: I spelled a word wrong, but incorrectly, I thought, sounded more like a word a teacher might use.) Having an error on paper was worse than a sin. Having an error in my writing meant I was…stupid. It meant I was worth less than the person who could write error-free prose. How did I come to this conclusion? I’m not sure. It’s just something I always knew. When your parents do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle for sport and when they don’t let you drop your “r”’s when you say “quarter” even though all your friends who are also from Boston say “quartah”, you know that speaking and writing correctly earns you a place in the center of your parents’ hearts. Or at least this is what you hope.
So I lived like this, not writing much while getting an M.F.A. in creative writing because it’s hard to be creative when you are afraid of being wrong. But then I got a writing partner and we started writing screenplays, and I saw that, in our craze to write as powerfully as possible, we often made grammatical mistakes. We were terrible with punctuation because we were so in the scene. Yes, we edited. Yes, we fixed things. But not everything. I no longer thought I might die if there was a mistake on the paper. And then one of our screenplays was made into a movie and I got to sit in a theater in Austin, in New York City, in San Jose, and I got to watch those mistakes disappear in the thrill of action on screen. The mistakes didn’t matter. What mattered was that we had tried our hardest, and we had finished something. We had created a movie.
So my book has mistakes, but I’ll tell you something: I wrote a book. I could have sat around and worried about being perfect and created nothing.
I’ll take the misteaks.