I make mistakes. I make a lot of mistakes, and I make them often. I make mistakes not only in my personal life or in my writing, but when I’m communicating with other people. In the past, I would go red, and do my absolute best to pretend that nothing had happened. I hadn’t totally just butchered the pronunciation of that foreign phrase. It was fine; it was cool; I wasn’t turning the color of a tomato at all. Nope, not me. Now that I’ve lived a couple more years, I find it funny just how silly I was acting. Everyone makes mistakes, and there was really no reason for me to so adamantly ignore what I’d done or said wrong. Instead, I should have tried to work through it.
However, I also work at a writing center. I know that a lot of clients come in expecting me, and my co-workers, to have all the answers and tell them exactly what to say, do, or fix. These students are dependent on me to help them identify and work through the mistakes they are making. It seems to a lot of clients that I have the best skills, the right training, and the knowledge to not make mistakes. As a tutor, I obviously don’t, and I definitely can’t, make mistakes.
That’s why one of the first things I do in a session with a client new to the writing center is acknowledge a mistake when I make it.
A lot of times this catches people off guard. They’re sent spinning for a second until I correct myself and laugh it off. “Oh! how silly of me, I miss pronounced that word!” “Oh yeah, you do need a comma there. I completely missed that, my bad. Great eye!” I’ve found that by admitting that I can miss punctuation details, or that I don’t know how to say a source’s name either, a client becomes a little more comfortable. I become less of a tutor, and more of a peer, someone that they can identify with. There’s that dramatic switch from ‘the tutor is never wrong, I’m just a bad writer’ mindset to the ‘oh, that’s an easy mistake to make, I’ll watch out for that’ mindset. The person that a school trusts to help others with writing is still human, and knows when they are wrong and works to fix their mistakes too.
This sense of similarity also helps boosts clients up. I know that I have lots of stories where I’ve completely goofed something up. By sharing how I handled a similar situation to one they’re facing, or what worked well for me to address a grammar mistake, the client knows that we all go through this sometimes-frustrating process of writing. They’re not doing anything wrong by forgetting a comma or forgetting to match tense. Instead, they’re doing the exact right thing by figuring out their mistake and learning how to address it in the future by working through it with someone who’s made that same mistake before. Even Shakespeare, James Joyce, and Mary Shelley edited and rewrote their great works. Making mistakes is a part of the writing process for clients, consultants, and professionals.
By just recognizing that we’re all human and sharing experiences and challenges with each other, we as consultants can not only build relationships with the students that come in but encourage them. It’s all right to make mistakes; you just have to find the tools to work through them. So yeah, I make a lot of mistakes, and I use them to help others with their own.