Wednesday, October 20, 2010

24 WOW Wednesday: tahereh mafi on making mistakes

Today's guest is the lovely Tahereh Mafi, author of the hilarious Querypolitan blog. As she puts it so succinctly on her author blog, she "is a girl. She's 22. She writes YA novels and is repped by the ever-fabulous Amy Tipton of the Signature Literary Agency." She's also very modest.

on making mistakes

the path to publication is paved by perseverance. it’s full of mistakes and inadequacies; it’s bursting with emotion and fleeting moments of hope and despair. it’s the manifestation of your blood, sweat and tears on paper. getting published is about taking an infinite number of chances. it’s about taking a deep breath and swallowing the burn of a million tears that have somehow fallen down your throat. it’s about waking up every morning to an inbox full of rejection and having your heart explode in your hands multiple times a day. it’s about being vulnerable.

you finally allow someone to take a look at your stories only to have them rip it apart.
you finally land an agent only to discover the hard work has just begun.
you finally manage to sell a book only to realize you feel even tinier than you did before.

but then.

when you get a small yes of possibility from someone willing to take a chance on you.
when you get positive feedback from a beta reader, an agent, a highly-regarded friend.
when you hear from readers, fellow writers, strangers you never knew existed.

somehow all the pain is worth it.

my journey toward publication has barely started and i’ve already done everything wrong. i wrote my manuscripts wrong. i edited wrong. i queried wrong. i waited wrong. i made every possible mistake but i was committed to never giving up. i discovered that mistakes are okay when you learn from them, and bad manuscripts are just fine if you learn to laugh at them later. i knew that if the first book didn’t work i would write a second one. and if the second one didn’t work i would write a third. nothing was a waste of time. not the fourth book, not the fifth or the sixth. not the time i addressed a male agent by a woman’s name, not the times i thought “editing” meant “looking for typos”, and certainly not the hours i spent hunched over my computer with imaginary friends and places painting my world into something i never knew i could see.

i discovered:
  • my first novel taught me how to write.
  • my second novel taught me how to edit.
  • my third novel taught me how to write elegantly.
  • my fourth novel taught me how to write commercially.
  • my fifth novel taught me how to combine all four.
  • my sixth novel taught me how to write a book.
it’s easy to lose hope. it’s easy to look around and compare, to feel deficient. but the truth is that we’re no different, you and i. i might have an agent and i obviously don't like proper capitalization but that doesn't make me special. it doesn't make me cool. it doesn't make me a better person. it doesn't erase the fact that i had to battle the query-wars every single day for too long. it doesn't erase the countless rejections i've received and will continue to receive for the rest of my life.

we're all human-beings aspiring to live up to our potential, aspiring to live up to our goals for the future. and i hope that when you look at your manuscript you will not doubt yourself. because you can never wonder if it's worth it, this novel you are writing. you can never wonder if you are wasting your time. because every single moment is a moment you are learning, growing, maturing, and cultivating your mind. this, what you are doing? is not a waste.

because you know what it means to persevere.
because you are made of momentum.
because you will be unbelievable.

never give up.

i'm cheering for you.


  1. Authors are ever evolving and its wonderful to know that some readers follow us along the way, and stick around to see the true butterfly within us shine.

  2. Wise. Mistakes are never mistakes unless you don't learn from them. Thanks for the encouragement. Writing is truly a writer's internal evolution.

  3. Thanks for the encouragement. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who has made lots of mistakes. And hopefully if I perservere, I'll get there.

  4. Tahereh is always brilliant! Love this advice! :)

  5. This is terrific. I've sent you an email before because I can't wait to "chat" with you more (NO rush - I know you're busy!). But I feel so lost...and I recently read from one agent that she recommended taking classes, etc in order to learn how to write, etc (because I have no educational background at all and it shows I know). I'm pretty "old" in this game, but I'm hoping I can breathe and relax and find that right "spark" and let it flow.

  6. Somehow, you always get to me! I love your inspirational posts. Somehow they always seem to come at exactly the right time, exactly what I need to hear. I'm sure countless other readers think the same thing--maybe it's just that the struggle of the aspiring writer is such a universal thing? Anyway, reading these posts make me feel like such a member of a community, like I'm friends with everyone who ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, for that matter). I love it.

  7. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    This made my heart swell.

    i discovered:

    my first novel taught me how to write.
    my second novel taught me how to edit.
    my third novel taught me how to write elegantly.
    my fourth novel taught me how to write commercially.
    my fifth novel taught me how to combine all four.
    my sixth novel taught me how to write a book.

    lol I'm trying not to cry - stupid hormones ;)

  8. I absolutely love your breakdown of your six novels and what they taught you. That's so true! And it would help a lot to remember that as you're struggling through those early novels and trying to find your voice and process. Heck, I bet there's also truth in the first six *published* novels, because I know how much I learned from doing my second book, and then my third. It's following that same process on a slightly different level.

  9. You are definitely made of momentum.

    And your credo here reminded me of this quote from James Lee Burke:

    You never quit. You can’t be discouraged. But, at the same time, a person should not fault himself for becoming discouraged. It’s going to happen. It’s natural. But you still have to commit yourself.

  10. What a beautiful message- thanks Taherah! I agree, all my novels helped me develop and improve and none of it is a waste of time. Thanks!

  11. Love this post! Yesterday, I read a portion of my first draft of a project I started well over a year ago. I cringed at all the telling (which stuck around for many drafts). Thankfully I've learned a lot since then, and I know I've grown a lot as a writer since my first novel.

    Great inspiring words, Taherah!

  12. Oh Tahereh!!! You know I love you (even though all I've ever seen is your coat and your shoes). You always speak from the heart, and so eloquently. Which book taught you that? Number 2??? Anyway, I'm really glad to have such awesome peers (like you and Martina, and Marissa) and that we support each other.

  13. You are absolutely right, and I enjoyed reading about your writing path. No novel is wasted; I'm on my 16th! and I've learned something with every one of them. The key is not to give up--and to enjoy what you're doing.

  14. You always inspire me, Tahereh. *hugs*

  15. Great words as usual, Tahereh. =) This journey is an educational one, isn't it?

  16. This is the best post ever! Great advice from Tahereh, and I highly doubt she's done anything wrong. Just sayin'. :)

  17. As always, Tahereh is brilliant. Writing is a SKILL, and just like playing a sport or an instrument, it requires PRACTICE. :-)

  18. Wonderful encouragement for today. Thank you!

  19. Awesome. Fantastic post ;o) Great advice and encouragement. Thanks for sharing your journey with us Tahereh ;o)

  20. Great post! It's very inspiring and really pinpoints something I've been thinking a lot about lately - commitment and dedication to my writing.

  21. I LOVE that first paragraph. To death.

  22. Tahereh, I want to put you in my pocket and carry you wherever I go (not in a weird way, I swear). That way I'll have a burst of sunshine whenever I'm feeling low. Thank you!

  23. Tahereh, can I be your cyber-bff. Your post was perfecto. I just lost 10 emotional pounds. Thank you.

  24. I'm crying. I woke up from a writing dream and I was feeling completely discouraged and "un-writerly." And I have a cold. This touched me in my writer's soul. I still feel crappy, but I still want to write. Thank you.


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