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Are Mistakes Such Terrible Things?

By 23/06/2014writing

I’m taking a break from my blog, and in the time I’m away, Kate McManus has kindly offered to write me a post. This blog talks about questions surrounding life and writing, and I think the questions she asks in this post fit in neatly with my take on writing, life, and everything else in between.

Take it away, Kate!


“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing”

George Bernard Shaw

Mistakes in Writing

Mistakes in Writing

We don’t like them and twist ourselves inside out to avoid them. But are mistakes such terrible things ? It goes back to early conditioning in childhood. We are told there is a right and a wrong way to approach a task. It’s a simple framework our society provides to keep us from the stress and chaos of having to make our own decisions before we have developed that capacity. It’s something we need to outgrow and as we mature, come to appreciate that everything is multifaceted and can be both wrong and right at the same time.

“Why did I do that? I knew it wasn’t going to work out” A friend once exclaimed to me after going on a holiday- which produced another destructive romantic fling.To heal deep patterns in our life, it’s sometimes necessary to repeat them in order to gain the clarity and consciousness which will manifest permanent change. Most of our patterns are built unconsciously over time and so require this deep level of commitment to awareness of the triggers which produce the mistakes or errors of judgement. In this case, a repetitive mistake can become a healing tool, a portal to new life

To fully access our creative imagination, we have to let go of the right/wrong, rational /linear paradigm. Writing is one big mistake to which we apply the remedy of editing so that it can make sense to our readers. As Ernest Hemingway perspicaciously once said “The first draft of anything is shit.” Struggling for perfection in the early stages of writing is sadomasochistic and ultimately unproductive. Let the mistakes flow! Can you imagine the first draft of James Joyce “Ulysses” ?

Mistakes when you travel can produce fortunate adventures; It’s the mistake which makes your journey unique. That time when you wandered away from the planned route and discovered a completely different part of a city. Mistakes are a large part of the road less travelled.

Is life itself a mistake? Cosmologists now advise us us about the serendipitous evolution of human life; it’s inherent impossibility and fragility which evolved into the dominant life force on the planet.What a happy accident for all of us on planet earth!

Kate McManus travel blogger

Kate McManus

Kate is a blogger, writer, astrologer and healer, who travels around Australia doing house sitting. As an animal lover, she enjoys the companionship of all kinds of pets as she explores different parts of the country. Kate applies an understanding of the Astrological Archetypes to her life and travels. In between house sits, she likes to visit her family and two grandchildren in Canberra.

You can visit her blog at and Facebook page “The Conscious Cosmic Traveller ”


So, what’s your reaction when you realize you’ve made a mistake? How do you treat someone who’s made a mistake– a friend, a partner, a spoude, a sibling, a child, a parent? Is there a mistake you’re glad you made?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • param2 says:

    I have always felt ‘nothing ventured nothing failed’. Failures aren’t bad at all, as long as we learn positively from them…

  • mercyputri says:

    We are not god, human always make a mistake, there is not perfection in life

  • Very soon this website will be famous amid all blogging visitors, due to it’s pleasant articles

  • writer29uk says:

    I believe it all depends on the mistakes that people make. Yes, everyone makes mistakes and someone who doesn’t believe they’ve made mistakes is clearly fooling themselves as no-one is perfect but there are some mistakes that people really should not make, especially when it comes to personal safety and even worse, children.

    Personally, I think it is naive to believe all mistakes are there to learn from but then I have worked with young people & adults in a psychiatric hospital who are the victims of some of these ‘mistakes’ so it does give me a certain perspective that some may not think of… Some mistakes are unforgivable. Generally I agree though!!

  • As long as you grow from what you perceive as a mistake then it was worth making in my books.

  • Mistakes are such amazing opportunities for growth. The quest for perfectionism is so self-defeating for writers or anyone else. Descartes said it best: “You just keep pushing. You just keep pushing. I made every mistake that could be made. But I just kept pushing.”

  • Making mistakes helps us to be a better person. We commit mistakes but we learn from them. πŸ™‚

  • seanbidd says:

    Learn and become creative so I can paint the next mistake clearer.

  • Grace says:

    The best “mistake” I made was to attend university when I was much older. I didn’t go when I was “supposed to.” It was not the right time – for me, at least. I veered away from the life course that society expects us to take. While it wasn’t exactly fun to be the oldest person in class, being “different” helped shift the way I think about norms in general. And for that, I am very grateful. Why should we do things just one way? Why should we only be this or that? Multiplicity is the way; we’re way too complex to be pigeonholed.

    • Thanks for sharing such a great exmple of stepping outside the box I.e. a mistake. Yes, why must we limit ourselves to only one or two ways when there are so many possibilities in life?

  • ritesh says:

    Being/ making too much or least is mistake… the scale for the takes… Be happy. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  • very insightful, I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason and truely thing that mistakes can teach us something too and make life more interesting as well as providing more opportunities for strength.

  • allskyedout says:

    Everyone makes mistakes. Show me someone who has never made a mistake and I will show you a liar.

    Dana Guidera
    Author of Seven Poems from Life

  • Have a nice and refreshing break from blogging, Damyanti. Kate, great post. My dad died before seeing me graduate from high school. He told me once, β€œAny man can make a mistake, no man ought to make the same mistake twice.” Of course, in today’s world it would apply to β€œanyone” rather than β€œman” but the truth is the same.

  • lexacain says:

    I love your optimism, and I imagine that there are a lot of examples from history where great discoveries were made because of accidents. πŸ™‚

  • Akila says:

    Mistakes… I’ve made tons of them, but I don’t think I’ve even learnt not to do them, but somehow end up making them again!

  • Great post, very thought-provoking. In terms of how I handle others’ mistakes, I’m usually pretty forgiving and understanding — more so than I am with myself. But I’ve been working on that…

  • Peter Nena says:

    Mathematically, the equations governing life are nonlinear. What we regard as a ‘mistake’–an event which can be viewed as consequent to a linear view of a nonlinear system–is but a different equation emerging from the original, though unexpected. If pursued, its benefits will be discovered. The notion that mistakes are horrible things only fills us with fear. We grow up too scared; we grow up hurt. We build the economy based on this fear, with everybody relentlessly engaged at eliminating other’s mistakes, even as more are made every instant. Ironically, our mistakes employ us. How can they be so terrible, then?

  • Mistakes are a fundamental part of the learning process. The best mistake I ever made was moving to San Diego. I thought moving there would help open up my creativity, and I didn’t realize it was already inside me. It still changed my life. I learned to play volleyball, picked up a taste for Mexican food, and met people that I’m still friends with today.

  • Pete Buckley says:

    Nobody’s perfect and if you don’t make mistakes, you have nothing to learn from.

  • brianklowe says:

    You can’t learn from your mistakes if you never make any. Likewise, you can’t learn from them if you don’t admit to them. In a writing context, check out “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. She goes into detail about why allowing yourself to write “shitty first drafts” is not only okay, but necessary.

  • Fazal Abbas says:

    Exactly happened with me today. I was writing an article for a blogging site ‘Pak Tea House’ and the first draft I wrote was literally bad. But I didn’t stop writing at first attempt. I let my ideas flow. Then refined by going though it for 4 or 5 times. I just mailed the article, satisfied that I have done a good job.

    I think you should not try to make cosmetic changes and perfection when writing a first draft. Let your ideas flow and just keep writing it.

  • arooshiashah says:

    Making mistakes is fun and remembering those mistakes after certain period of time makes u laugh and lastly u get to learn a lot from ur mistakes

  • ccyager says:

    I don’t know where I picked up my philosophy about mistakes. It certainly wasn’t from my parents who were fairly rigid in their right/wrong belief system. My mother also was a perfectionist. Somewhere, I picked up the idea that mistakes are learning opportunities, that it’s not as important that a mistake was made but what is done with it. So it’s not bothered me as much as an adult that I’ve made mistakes, and I expect I’ll continue to make mistakes.

    Regarding my writing, I don’t think of “mistakes” except regarding typos or spelling mistakes, grammar, etc. Since seeing Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures in the same gallery as the David at the Academy in Florence, I’ve thought of first and subsequent drafts as the marble out of which I’m shaping the sculpture of a finished final draft. This helps me focus on writing and revising as an organic process.

    Thanks for the post, Kate!


    • kmanthie says:

      When you let your instincts go to work and just get the main idea and data in there, but then let your unconscious do the bulk of the writing, you’ll be surprised at how well it can come out in the end. I’ve done that many times and when I look back on what I wrote, years later even, I am sometimes amazed that the piece I read was something that I wrote because it emanated, mostly from my unconscious. It may be hard to imagine, but you know a lot more than you think. That’s why, as long as you’ve done your research and/or have a good working knowledge of your subject and, let’s say, it’s a writing piece on something you have a familiarity with – even something that can take you off on small tangents – those tangents can contain bits of knowledge you didn’t know you had – if you let your instincts take over and can master the art of free-association writing. I know that that is a method to help practice writing when you are otherwise blocked, but it also is a tool that can be of great service in filling gaps in a story that would otherwise be dull as wood. I write this from experience. Spontaneity can be your best friend, sometimes, when writing. It’s only a matter of having the knowledge inside of you, so your unconscious can be your best friend in writing.

    • I like your analogy to Michelangelo’s sculptures

  • moussavic says:

    no i dont think so because the mistakes not terrible so much but they are lessons

  • When I look back at the mistakes I’ve made in life, I use it as a measurement of how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown and what I’ve learned.

  • surbhisarna says:

    Very true and profound words these “To heal deep patterns in our life, it’s sometimes necessary to repeat them in order to gain the clarity and consciousness which will manifest permanent change. ”
    Thank you so much for such a beautiful an inspiring post πŸ™‚

  • Neil Rainbow says:

    I used to be the kind of person who viewed mistakes as failures. I’ve learnt to embrace them now, it’s how we learn, how we evolve. A friend of mine told me a wonderful mantra that I think of whenever I make a mistake – There is no failure, only feedback.

  • Jemima Pett says:

    What a wonderful post! I’m one of those with the ‘Be Perfect’ voice in my head, which is useful for editing my work, but not good for being creative. I started to overcome that when I read a book (about drawing and painting) called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Bettina Edwards. She also talks about the straightjacket of what is ‘right’ we are forced into at school. It helped me loosen up and accept that while it may not be perfect by other people’s standards, if I’ve done something I’m proud of, to the best of my ability, then I should be satisfied – or learn from the mistakes. Of course – you have to know the rules in order to break them!
    Thanks for the inspiration, Kate.

  • Danae-Indigo says:

    Reblogged this on danaeindigo and commented:
    I think this post is very relevant to the world we currently live in and even from the start of man. In order to learn, sometimes mistakes have to happen. That’s no reason to go out and act a fool now! But we all make mistakes, do not penalize yourself too much and do not allow another man to condemn you as we ALL make mistakes.. Nobody is perfect but God. Learn, we are continually learning, every day, just make sure that you apply this in a positive way to your life and the world around you

  • Thank you for this blog! I am just trying to recover from what I think was a serious mistake and was beating myself up for doing that while being a responsible grown-up (most of the time). You gave me some perspective – first that it might be only human to make a serious mistake even when you are 50 and second that some good may come out of it, at least in the sense of: I will never do that again.

  • Rajlakshmi says:

    That’s a very inspiring post. The fear of making mistakes should restrict us from exploring new possibilities.

  • rumadak says:

    Kate, Are you by any chance in Melbourne??

  • rumadak says:

    Amazing Post!

  • I feel so down when I make a mistake and attempt to correct it


    • Dont beat yourself up! Instead try to discover the hidden gift when the mistake is offering you. Maybe you were doing what someone else expected or perhaps you were on automatic pilot. A mistake, serious or minor , can be a call to become more aware and learn about yourself and life.

  • keraoregan says:

    I don’t think mistakes are terrible at all. All the greatest things I have learned are from what others will call “mistakes”. Whether it’s “failed” relationships or stuff ups at work or in my personal life. Mistakes are good πŸ˜‰

  • Millie Ho says:

    Mistakes are amazing things.

  • Dixie Minor says:

    I really enjoyed this post and found it very encouraging! Thank you!

  • Mistakes do not define me. What I learn from my mistakes, defines me.


  • Wendy says:

    Best line :To fully access our creative imagination, we have to let go of the right/wrong, rational /linear paradigm. Nothing in life where you are pushing your own boundaries to learn something new is a mistake. Great post !

  • cynthiamvoss says:

    If I’m feeling bad about a mistake I try to remember to tell myself that it’s better to notice and correct it now rather than later. You know it’s wrong so do things differently from now on. Sometimes we make the same mistake over and over for years — think of all that wasted time!

  • journette says:

    I love this piece! Making mistakes is a part of what makes us grow into real, solid human beings, that makes us grow real hearts that are brave and resourceful enough to love well. There’s a great quote somewhere that says, “if you’re not making any mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough”. It changed my life. πŸ™‚

  • Mistakes are opportunities to learn something. Sometimes what seems to be a mistake is actually a brilliant new way to see, think or do something.

  • jueaabdullah says:

    Can’t say that there’s a mistake I’m glad that I made it ha ha…. But I’ve learned and understand thing better when I make mistakes. As a Muslim, mistakes lead me to humble feelings, lead me to God. Accepting that I’m just human and I have weaknesses. So, mistakes are not such terrible things. We’ll be a better person if we learn. Tq for sharing your ideas and I’m glad to respond. Take care!


  • Making mistakes isn’t fun and nothing is more tragic than making the same mistakes over and over without lessons being learned. I’ve made some doosies in my life, but I hope the pain they caused was enough to prevent me from making the same ones again. May the next mistake be a new one.

    • Kate McManus says:

      Hi Gayle
      I went through a “Groundhog” day experience in my life when I just couldnt get it…why didnt things work for melike they did for others? It took me a while to realise that I was quite a different person to who I and others thought I was! I stopped trying and new things-which reflected the real me- suddenly emerged.
      Im sure it will be the same for you. Life is surprising!

      • Hi, Kate – it’s been twenty years since my life altering mistake that nearly cost me everything I valued. That was my “Groundhog Day” moment–a complete 180. Nothing has been the same since and for that I’m SO grateful. I started writing again, in earnest, and have published five books. It’s funny how we learn more from the mistakes we make rather than from the good choices. Thanks for the thought provoking article!

  • Dan Antion says:

    Mistakes can bd costly but there is often a cost to doing nothing. The hardest thing for me to do with writing is to start when I think I have a good idea but no clear way to express it. Once I get something down I usually edit into something that isn’t crap but ghat first step is hard. Thanks for this post.

    • Kate McManus says:

      I think it all depends what you do with your mistake. It can be an indicator of a need to redirect yourself . Life is about discovery and mistakes can be the perfect vehicle for that. I do take your point about American foreign and domestic policy; the ΓΉrge to do “something” without fully understanding the situation can be fatal. Look at Iraq today as a case in point.
      Thanks for sharing your view

  • Jeff Marsh says:

    Every time we make a mistake we draw another line on the map of our lives. In doing this we can return as often as needed to a point that allows a different path to be taken.

    I write my first and second drafts with my spell/grammar check off… No distracting red or green lines on my literary map to distract my train of thought (a lot of transport metaphors, after all; it is a journey πŸ™‚ )

  • JF says:

    I can’t agree even with great George Bernard Shaw! If your life is only involves making mistakes you might be dangerous not only to yourself but to many others. It’s better to do nothing. A case in point is American foreign (and often domestic) policy.
    I am sure that Shaw meant that making SOME MISTAKES and learning from them is ok.

  • It’s only a mistake if we don’t learn or if we quit. All else is just experience.

  • A.D. Everard says:

    There is always something good from a mistake. Learning is a big benefit, but there can be hidden bonuses as well, such as finding that completely different part of the city. No one – ever – has gone through life without making mistakes, so it’s very much part of the human experience.

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