Do you admire people who use language in unusual ways? Chances are if you’re reading this, you do – or you are that person. I love when someone turns a phrase that makes me stop and reconsider conventions or expectations. I have a friend who never gets his verb tenses correct, but his mistakes serve to remind me: Break the rules and discover a new truth. Sometimes he speaks poetry without even knowing it.
That’s not to say we should eschew the rules. We hate typos and misspellings when they happen in our writing (and when they happen in our magazine – egads). We strive for grammatical and syntactical perfection. And we’re pretty sure you do, too.
But it’s that occasional typo or other mistake – for instance, the difference between typing “not” and “now” – that can make us pause, can make us move from a black-and-white view of language into the land of gray tones. And sometimes we’re not making mistakes; we’re pushing for something original.
I was thinking about that in a conversation with MK Asante, who is featured in the How I Write department of this issue. He was explaining to me how he finally realized that the material he was living with for so long could finally transform into his memoir Buck. He had, in that moment, mastered the elements of the story and knew it was time to form it into a whole. “Not only do I understand this,” he said. “I overstand this. For the first part of writing the book, it had control of me. And then there was a moment when I could see it, and I knew it was going to work.”
It was the “overstand” that caught my ear. Such a small shift in thinking. Such a powerful tool for a writer.
In this issue, we push for that independence of thought: the idea that gets skewed and allows for discovery, the research that leads to realizations, the format that shapes new narratives, the silent retreat that encourages inner engagement, the memories that become defining stories.
Craft guru Natalie Goldberg makes the case for writing as an athletic activity. So true. I’d also like to make the case for writing as a practice where mistakes can lead to glory. Artists tell me time and time again that there is art in failure. So let us strive for excellence and understand that a misstep can sometimes lead to a more beautiful overstanding.
Enjoy this issue. And be kind to yourself and others when it comes to making mistakes. They could lead to the most compelling, careful work you do.