Permission to Err

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: March 5, 2013
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Comments: 2 Comments

limits & infinity, red asymptotesSome weeks ago, I stumbled against these extremely freeing lines in Hugo Lindgren’s New York Times Magazine * article “Be Wrong as Fast as You Can‘:

I recently saw a Charlie Rose interview with John Lasseter, a founder of Pixar, about the creative process behind his movies. Pixar’s in-house theory is: Be wrong as fast as you can. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process, so get right down to it and start making them. Even great ideas are wrecked on the road to fruition and then have to be painstakingly reconstructed. “Every Pixar film was the worst motion picture ever made at one time or another,” Lasseter said. “People don’t believe that, but it’s true. But we don’t give up on the films.” [Emphasis mine]


I think of ScrivaRuth when I read this, though her prose is the opposite of “worst.” When we began critiquing her first novel, Blue Thread **, one of us said that we have to be careful because her prose is so beguiling that it can lull us into overlooking things that need to be addressed. From first draft, Ruth’s writing is extremely polished.


Yet even such good writing is capable of improvement. As I mentioned once, the Scrivas give each other the benison of repeated critiques of works-in-progress. It’s satisfying to see works unfurl into full leafage as we comment, re-read and comment—and as the writer writes, and re-writes. When Ruth submitted a later draft of a section of her second novel, The Ninth Day***, the only word I could find to describe her writing was “masterly.” Even naturally polished writing can improve as one writes, opens oneself to feedback, and goes back to rework things. Ruth’s story is just the most recent example I’ve lived among the Scrivas.


It’s been many calendar pages since I last submitted something for critique. For months, I wanted to wait till a) I’d finished an entire draft of my novel-in-progress, and b) I’d polished it as much as I knew how before submitting it. (Yes, there just may be a touch of perfectionism in my make up.) Now, challenged both by the  paragraph quoted above and by a conversation with the Scrivas as we drove home from a writing retreat, I decided to plunge into the dance again. I submitted part of my novel.


I got most helpful feedback, as I knew I would. There are good things in my manuscript—and lots of work to do. Things to re-think. To re-write. To try in different ways.


I’m going to do it again. And again. It’s alright that my manuscript still has many steps to take to become the wonderful book it wants to be. Lasseter’s and Lindgren’s words give me permission to err. Permission to join in the dance, despite being neither finished nor perfect. Permission knowing that steps will be tottery and awkward starting out, maybe even spinning out of bounds now and then. My paces will become smoother and more polished as I continue, practice my steps, and learn new ones. As I joyfully twirl, turning my ideas into a story as good as it can be; like an asymptote, getting ever closer to the desired ideal. One day, I hope my own novel will be…masterly.


~ ~ ~

*           Cheryl Klein referenced the article ‘Be Wrong as Fast as You Can’ in her blog, Brooklyn Arden. (BTW, Cheryl’s excellent website is now live again.)

**        Blue Thread, by Ruth Tenzer Feldman, is currently an Oregon Book Award finalist—check Literary Arts’ OBA page after April 8 to learn if she received the prize we think her book deserves!

***      The Ninth Day, by Ruth Tenzer Feldman, will be published by Ooligan Press in fall 2013 (not 2014–thanks for the correction, Ruth).


Sabina I. Rascol

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2 Comments - Leave a comment
  1. Thanks, Sabina. Blue Thread and The Ninth Day are far better books because of Viva Scriva–don’t I know it! By the way, Ooligan plans to publish The Ninth Day in fall of 2013. I gotta get back to work.

  2. this post is quoted by Unsure? Try a Smorgasbord « Viva Scriva says:

    […] possibilities and others were written tongue in cheek, but they have promise. I continue to be on a Pixar kick and read David A. Price’s The PixarTouch: The Making of a Company. I learned there how they took […]

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