Conscious Mistakes

Not all mistakes are created equal.

As far as we are capable of making them, mistakes live in a kind of complex, multi-dimensional space. As much as I’d like to go on a nostalgic journey through my own mistake world, that would take far too long and probably wouldn’t mean so much to you. So, since the nature and perceived consequences of our mistakes varies so much from person to person, instead of describing to you the vast syntax and structure of my own personal mistake space, I’m just going to go ahead and give some illustrative examples (only some of which I have personally experienced).

Whacking a bee’s nest with a stick – mistake. Eating way too much pizza – delicious mistake. Putting your finger in a monkey’s mouth – stupid mistake. Asking a large woman when her baby is due – embarrassing mistake. Assuming you’re smarter than someone else – smug mistake. Forgetting a friend’s birthday – absentminded mistake. Invading Russia during the winter – deadly mistake. Pursuing a PhD in Neuroscience – we’ll talk about that another time. Forgetting your food in the oven – crispy mistake. Starting your own public blog on which you write about nothing in particular in the hope of improving your writing and communication skills and all around quality of life – …

Mistakes come in many flavours. Some of them are messy, some are dangerous, and many are even fun, but all of them teach us something important. I’d like to emphasize the last example I gave. I find it particularly intriguing because that is the main reason for this article today. We’re here to make conscious mistakes. Something which I think is very important.

From September 2005 to September 2006, Jonathan Coulton executed an ambitious project entitled “Thing a Week.” His goal was to release one song as part of a podcast every week for a year. These were his objectives:
(a) To push the artist’s creative envelope by adopting what Coulton describes as a “forced-march approach to writing and recording.”
(b) To prove to himself that he was capable of producing creative output to a deadline.
(c) To test the viability of the internet and Creative Commons as a platform capable of supporting a professional artist financially.

I won’t get into the details, but on all fronts he was wildly successful.

He was, however, very careful with his language. He didn’t call it ‘Brand-Spanking-New Song a Week,’ or ‘Power Ballad a Week.’ He stuck to the ambiguous ‘Thing a Week,’ allowing him enough wiggle room to also do covers, mash-ups, or re-write old songs.

That’s why this new home will simply be, conscious mistakes. It’s place to do things that push me outside of my comfort zone, and are a little bit scary.

Conscious mistakes are those active decisions you’re not really sure how you should feel about. You’re cautiously optimistic that it was a good decision, that it will only bring you forward, but something in the back of your mind thinks otherwise. Somewhere between your brainstem and your thalamus someone with a lot more experience than you is telling you to stay in your cave by the fire where it’s warm. Like a teenager rebelling against his or her parents, you feel the empowering sense of freedom that can only come from defying authority, but you’re also a little insecure in your new skin.

The process of writing itself is something a mathematician would call, ‘non-trivial’. While the language (often) obeys a syntax and semantics, the process of writing is a phenomenally complex process. The journey embarked upon by refining that process is very long, theoretically endless. Yet, the only way to improve is to work through the shit. Most notably, in the course of improving that process, you’re going to disappoint yourself, and that’s OK. Ira Glass, an American public radio persona, put it better:

“…the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” – Ira Glass

So, in the spirit of Jonathan Coulton and Ira Glass, my singular objective is:

(1) To push my creative boundaries by producing content on a deadline through a forced-march approach to writing.

From September 2013 to September 2014, I will post on this blog every other Monday (at a minimum).


Now, I’ve made a good deal of noise in this post, but the reality of why I’m doing this is only thinly veiled behind the prose. The last two years of my life have been fantastic, but they’ve also been extremely difficult, in some ways much more than others. At times I’ve felt myself in a state of temporary insanity and loneliness, just as desperate to communicate those thoughts and feelings with myself as much as others. I’ve been clinging to the temporary nature of certain difficult emotions, yet not knowing exactly how to move forward.

So. I ask myself what any sane person in a state of temporary insanity would. WWNGD?
(What Would Neil Gaiman Do)

Lucky for me, I’m pretty sure I know the answer.

“… and now go, and make interesting mistakes. Make amazing mistakes. Make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here…

Make. Good. Art.

See Neil Gaiman making a speech:
Long version (video)
Short version (comic)

Other Links:
Thing a Week wiki
Full Ira Glass quote

UPDATE: If you are reading this in the future, it will be clear that I did not stick to my one year goal of publishing every other week. The forced approach to writing did not work terribly well for me.