Prove me wrong
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Back when I was doing my Masters of Writing one of the things I learnt stuck with me and it’s proved to be important now I’m an editor: Your first draft should never be your last. This turns out to be really important for a lot of reasons.
Coming to understanding this gave me the freedom to write without self-censoring, without questioning whether it was good enough but it also helped avoid any ego, that maybe this was the next best thing. A lot of writers feel as though they have to craft each sentence so that it comes out perfectly. This pressure slows them right down or leads to blocks in their creativity. The value of editing your work—whether it’s done by a professional, a friend, or yourself—is that it helps you see where you got it wrong the first time around, so that you can find new possibilities in your writing that you didn’t know were there. Anyone who tells you that at first tilt Virginia Woolf or Ernest Hemingway produced evocative, perfectly crafted writing has got it wrong. (Hemingway is famously quoted as saying “the first draft of everything is shit.”)
But maybe that’s OK. Being wrong about an idea or an issue is generally thought of as a problem, one to be solved. Maybe it stems from too little information, bad data, or a preconceived bias. Identify and fix the problem in order to be right.
There must be a place for getting it wrong. If we worry about being wrong—in schools, in businesses, among peers, wherever—we become paralysed and unable to contribute to learning, to the exchange of ideas. And if we hold on to being right too tightly, we become partisan, stubborn, fixed in our ways.
Today we see politicians, for example, who prefer to ignore facts by asserting an opinion. Or who would rather talk about why the other side has it wrong than risk saying anything that they might be held accountable for. Partisanship and fear of being wrong.
Don’t be like them. Be wrong from time to time, and not just by accident. Take an opportunity to see an issue from a different perspective, argue for instead of against. Ideas are a lot like drafts: your first one should never be your last.
Accepting that sometimes we’re going to be wrong (and that’s OK) frees us to speak up when we might self-censor because we’re giving ourselves permission to reframe getting it wrong not as a problem to be solved, but an opportunity to exchange ideas. Accepting that sometimes others are right when we aren’t also might help us hone the type of humility that recognises when we should be quiet and let others speak up.
Take any issue or idea and whether we’re in the boardroom or classroom—student, teacher, staff or CEO—chances are that someone sees it in a way we’ve never considered.
Most importantly, though, embracing being wrong gives us a chance to discuss ideas differently with people, even those we might ordinarily agree with. It will open up unexpected avenues and chances for new or creative ways of tackling something that otherwise feels familiar.
No one gets it right first time around, but if an idea is never challenged or discussed those unseen possibilities will never be discovered. Be wrong for a bit and you’ll learn something new.