Learning to Embrace Writing Mistakes

Learning to Embrace Writing Mistakes

Students often have a phobia of making mistakes, especially when it comes to writing. Students may think that their first draft is too long, or too short, or too boring, or too riddled with grammatical mistakes, leaving them to believe that they are not good writers (and are doomed to fail).

But nobody ever writes a perfect draft the first time around. Not Stephen King. Not J.K. Rowling. Not even Shakespeare. Suppose these writers had stopped writing because they were afraid of making mistakes on the first try? We would not have some of the world’s most influential books, movies, or magical theme parks. 

One of the best ways to overcome the fear of writing mistakes is to remember that writing is a process, not a final product. Student writers like to assume (or wish) that their first draft of an essay is the final they should hand into the teacher. But this is not the case. A draft is just that—a draft. It’s only the beginning of the writing process, and it doesn’t need to be perfect. It actually doesn’t even need to be very good. Just writing down thoughts as they occur—as complete sentences, phrases, bullet points, or any combination of these—will start the creative juices flowing and help student writers think about what they want to say and how they want to say it. Maybe it takes two pages of draft writing to figure out the thesis statement, or three full paragraphs to arrive at one good supporting example. Maybe the initial draft is filled with run-on sentences and grammatical errors. Maybe a lot of the draft seems irrelevant to the writing prompt. That’s okay! That’s what revision is for.

Revision is the most important part of the writing process because writers are expected to make mistakes in their initial drafts. Revision enables writers to improve their work gradually until it is ready to be submitted for a grade (or publication, or a social media post, or any other goal). Revision encompasses everything from correcting errors in subject-verb agreement to re-organizing the paragraphs to refining the thesis statement or argument to changing word choice and transitions. Reading out loud is particularly helpful for catching these types of mistakes and revising them quickly.

However, the best revision strategy is to have another person read the draft and provide substantive feedback, whether that is through peer review, meeting with a teacher during office hours, or bringing a draft to a writing center for help from a professional tutor. The more students grow accustomed to revising their papers with input from others, the more comfortable they will become with identifying and correcting writing mistakes. For students who are still self-conscious about their writing or who have not yet learned to embrace writing mistakes, WriteLab is a good "safe space" for writing and revising drafts. WriteLab provides constructive feedback on student writing and points out mistakes without judgment. It’s an excellent first step in learning how to accept mistakes and revision as an integral part of becoming a better writer.

By embracing writing mistakes and the revision process, students will ultimately take greater pride in their work—and perhaps become the next great novelist or writer.

Read these helpful articles for related tips and tricks:

Providing Feedback Students Will Respond To

Providing Feedback Students Will Respond To

 Expert Preparation Tips for the AP Language and Composition Exam

Expert Preparation Tips for the AP Language and Composition Exam