I have a scar on the back of my hand…
I have a few actually (no, not from that, I’m not that much of a method writer).
I mean I have a few scars, some emotional yes if you want to go down that route but mostly physical, that I’ve suffered unintentionally over the years.
I have a lovely one on my elbow from falling on a small rock as a child. I remember the argument I was having with a ‘friend’, just before I fell. That memory is clear as a bell and it was 15-20 years ago.
I have one hidden under my hair from cutting my head open at my Gran’s house when I was knee high to a grasshopper. My mum arrived to find a trail of bloody tissues leading to me, still giddy, sitting in the living room with a chuckling Grandmother. They glued that one back together…seriously.
I have a tennis ball stitching shaped scar on the back of my left foot. That ones from surgery, and it’s a pretty hefty scar…it should be, they did slice through my Achilles tendon! I remember that one patricianly well, not just because it still randomly hurts some days (even years later), but because of the agony I went through when the doctor decided my stitches could stay in a couple of weeks longer. Turns out he was wrong. They had to dig them out of my still extremely tender foot…with a scalpel…individually. That day is as clear as HD.
I have a few on my arms and hands from my days as a shelf stacker at Argosand Twilight Operations Assistant (read shelf stacker) at Boots. The memories of these are just as fresh as the rest. A broken florescent tube light I managed to smash over myself when I lifted a ladder too high without checking what was above me; a few cuts from misjudging/misusing the Stanley knifes we carried with us to open tough boxes; or climbing down the 45° conveyor belt than ran between the ground floor shop and first floor stockroom…reasonably exciting stories and most of the events come through like BrainVideosTM.
The one on the back of my hand has a much more boring story.
I was painting the bathroom ceiling, and I stepped off the bath. When I did I caught the back of my hand on a glass shelf. The corner wedged itself pretty deep into the meat of my hand (the shelf suffered no damage at all), and I screamed like a fox being molested by a sharp pencil.
But I remember.
I can’t recall, with great clarity, my 21st birthday (not from self-inflicted reasons), or my first day at this job, or most of the details of the frequent days out to the cinema with my good friend Nick Denton when I was younger. I can remember the days of course, and some of the details, but nothing is quite as sharp as those times I experienced pain.
Mistakes stand out in your mind, the happy stuff tends to fade until you have a good friend round and open a bad bottle of vodka…then the happy memories start to flow. But by morning they might have disappeared again (the vodka may be partly to blame).
The same can be said of my writing.
I can’t seem to replicate the feeling of glee at receiving an email confirming my short story had made it into an anthology, I can’t fathom the happiness I felt when I met famous authors, or when I won competitions. Sure I can remember things happening; I’m not that bad yet. But not as clearly as the mistakes, those are the memories you can actually feel.
My stomach falls when I remember sending off stories without noticing glaring errors, or the night I sent a terrible story to a huge publication just because I was too impatient to put it through another draft.
Those memories I remember as if they happened yesterday.
But that’s a good thing! Honest!
If you forget your mistakes, you make them again.
If you forget the happy stuff, then all you have to do is get out there and get some more SuccessJuiceTM
Don’t forget your mistakes, your writing scars, you’ll only repeat them if you do. Revel in the feeling of “Oh my God, I sent that off?!”; roll around with glee in the shit that was your first draft you gave to a friend to read, even though you knew it wasn’t ready for beta readers; dive head first into the memory of panic as you realised your MC changed gender halfway through a short you sent off to a Harper Collins competition.
Wear your scars with pride and know that you won’t make the same mistake twice.
Or make it twice! Two scars will mean you NEVER do it again.
Small successes are great but they are easy to forget, its easy to get complacent and assume everything is just dandy and you don’t need to change. But you probably do. No writer can afford to rest on their laurels; you can’t just experience a few victories and sit back with your hands behind your head and your feet on the keyboard.
You need to get out there, make some more mistakes, and get some more scars. Toughen up your skin for an industry that’s always changing, always evolving. You need to have a brain full of “OMGWTFBBQ!” moments to look back on so you can avoid them at all costs.
You need to keep your scars where you can see them.
I have a scar on the back of my hand…and I’ll never forget why.