THROWBACK THURSDAY: “Forget the mistake. Remember the lesson.” A few thoughts on how to deal with corrections.

I had to give one of my best reporting students a failing grade on her midterm, and it killed me to do it.

It was a phenomenal job of reporting and writing, as she conquered “The Midterm from Hell” better than anyone has in a long time. She could have survived a few minor mistakes I found, but then she had a fact error, a misspelled proper noun. That did enough damage to sink her.

I went to talk to her about it and she had no complaints. “That’s on me,” she said. “I just copied and pasted the quote from the email and never thought to look up how to spell the names.”

“Next time, I’ll know better.”

I have to admit, that was a more enlightened view of things than I would have taken at age 19, but it is what I’ve been trying to teach students for the past several decades: The grades don’t matter, but what you learn based on what leads to those grades does.

In honor of that, here’s a throwback Thursday post on learning to forget the mistake but to remember the lesson you learned from it.

“Forget the mistake. Remember the lesson.” A few thoughts on how to deal with corrections.

Of all the things you will write over the course of your career, nothing feels worse than writing a correction. Essentially, corrections tell the world, “Hey, remember that thing I told you yesterday that I was so proud I managed to find out and share with everyone? Yeah, I screwed up…” Corrections run the gamut from the amusing ones, like this correction on a drag queen’s presence at an event as well as her act:


…to the geeky ones like this look at a quote from “The Simpsons:”


…to the downright embarrassing:

(It might just be what the kids are calling it these days… “Hey, you gonna go home or should we um… y’know… fail to stop at a railroad crossing…”)

Perhaps there is nothing worse than having to correct a correction, which happened at one of the papers where I worked. We misspelled the name of the Carrerra soccer club, first by using only one “R” in one of the double-R pairings and then we screwed up the correction by using only one “R” in the other one. When we asked the managing editor if we should run another correction, he told us, “No, you’ve done quite enough damage already.”

Corrections can be painful but they’re worth doing. My worst one involved a guy we thought was dead but turned out not to be, even though he was still teetering on death’s door. The question became: “OK, so we said this guy died yesterday, but he didn’t. What happens if he dies now? How do we write that correction?” Eeesh. The guy lived past press time, so we were at least saved the pain of trying to work through that one, but it still stung.

One of my other problems with corrections (and I’ve been told I’m not alone on this), is the issue of “correction contagion” in my work. I had a handful of corrections at each stop I made as a journalist, but they tended to “bunch up” on me. Thus, after I made my first error and fixed it, I’d be so myopic about not making THAT mistake again, I would make four other stupid mistakes. Fortunately, I had great editors who saved me most of the time, but when they couldn’t hold back my wave of stupidity properly, I ended up with another correction or two in short order.

So, how do you deal with the corrections as a writer? To figure out how to write a solid correction, give the book a read. As for how to mentally deal with this blow to your ego and skill set, that’s a bit tougher.

I found a good piece of advice on one of those chatty billboards outside of an area business or church or something as I was driving around recently:

“Forget the mistake. Remember the lesson.”

In other words, don’t obsess about the stupid thing you did, but rather how you came to make that stupid mistake in the first place. Was it a case of thinking you knew something so you failed to check on it? Was it something where you forgot to check back on an evolving situation? Was it time where you didn’t have a lot of time to recheck a fact? Was it that you didn’t stop and think before completing your work? Whatever the underlying factors were for that error, consider those to be the lessons to take with you so you can avoid making that mistake again.

Then, let the mistake go or just let it serve as a reminder of the lesson.

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