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After A Screw-Up, Evaluate What Happened.
Face Your Inevitable Mistakes And Learn

By Roxanne Coyne

Voice Actor

I’ll never forget the day I drove away from the gas station with the pump still attached to my car.

There was a moment of shock, followed by the classic fight or flight reflex: If I drive off now, can I make a clean getaway?


I backed up and went inside and faced the music. 

That was over 10 years ago and I’m still too ashamed to go back to that Arco station, which is just up the street from my house. I’m sure the owner has forgotten all about it, but I have not!  


Have you ever made a huge mistake in your professional life? Ever wish you could hit the rewind button?  

Over the years I’ve found that most of my mistakes are the result of one of two things:
  • Lack of experience
  • Lack of information
For example, when I was a camera assistant, a camera operator told me this:
"When I hire an assistant I always ask if they’ve ever flashed (accidentally exposed) a roll of film. If they say NO, I don’t hire them."
Why? I asked.
"Because," he said, "they are either lying, in which case you can’t trust them, or they really haven’t flashed a roll of film yet. If that’s the case then it’s more likely to happen on your watch. Either way, you don’t want that person anywhere near your set!"

Be prepared to make every mistake ONCE. 

Things we think of as ‘stupid’ mistakes are not really stupid. They are part of a learning process, and should be viewed that way. 

Have you had one of these experiences? 
  • You have completed a full hour of an audiobook recording session, only to discover you did not hit the RECORD button. 
  • You signed off the Skype session with your client, only to discover that the audio chain was not properly routed. 
  • You thought you saved your file as a 16 bit wav, only to discover that you selected U-law format instead.
It happens. Intellectually, you may think you know what you’re doing, but having the experience of a colossal screw up is sometimes the best education there is.  


Lack of information may sound like a problem only affecting newcomers. It’s not. There’s always something to learn. 

Good communication with your clients is step one to being on top of things. Ask lots of questions, even if they seem silly. You might be surprised. 

A few months ago I delivered raw audiobook tracks to an editor. I had marked my copy, as requested, but I had also used a clicker to make marks on the audio file every time I made a mistake in reading the copy. 

I thought this would be a great help to the editor, who would be able to see my pickups right on the track. 

I was wrong. 

It turns out this particular team needed to master and normalize the tracks before editing the file. My clicker spikes messed up the whole process and ended up creating hours of extra work for the rest of the team. That was embarrassing.

The lesson?  Communicate. Ask questions. Don’t surprise people with innovations that you think are wonderful without getting clearance.  


Here’s what to keep in mind: You will probably make every mistake imaginable (hopefully, only once).

But don’t run away. As hard as it is to eat humble pie, you need to face your error, make amends if possible, and vow to never let it happen again. 

Own your mistakes as you own your victories.  

After a screw-up, evaluate what happened: 
  • Could this have been prevented if you had been better prepared? 
  • Is the mistake a result of lack of experience (driving off with the pump attached), or is it the result of lack of information (clicker all over the track)?
Look ahead. Mistakes are part of your education. Tuck the lessons you learn from them into your back pocket and avoid repeating them. 

After all, there are new mistakes waiting to be made every day!      
Roxanne Coyne is a voice actress who learned many life lessons while she was a camera assistant. She flashed a roll of film on a movie set once when she locked herself in the darkroom and removed the film from the magazine with her eyes shut and the lights ON. Imagine explaining that one to the cinematographer, the director, the producer, the actors and the entire crew after a 14-hour day? 


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Comments (7)
Elizabeth Holmes
3/1/2013 at 12:16 PM
Wow, Roxanne. This is balm for my soul. Thank you, so much, for this practical, balanced reminder that mistakes *will* be made, and it's what we do about them afterwards that matters. (And keep these timely, helpful articles coming. They're GREAT!)
2/28/2013 at 4:23 PM
Jim, I like your comment about allowing yourself to screw up in the booth. It's all about taking risks. Thank Goodness for WONDERFUL editors and engineers who make us sound fabulous.
ted mcaleer
2/28/2013 at 2:45 PM
Oh man... Bonehead plays are my signature! But like you said, only once, learn and move on. I wish I had a dime for every time I said "It will never happen again..." Good thing it hasn't ;)

Great article, Roxanne!
Kevin Scheuller
2/28/2013 at 11:45 AM
Those who have never felt the agony of failure have seldom risked enough to enjoy the sweetness of success. Excellent article!
Marc Scott
2/28/2013 at 11:37 AM
I've owned every mistake I've made, and I've certainly made my share. Up to this point, I've never had a client fault me for it once. If you're honest and upfront about what you've done they're going to respect that a lot more than if they have to find out on their own.

We're all human. Even our clients, too!
Naomi McMillan
2/28/2013 at 11:01 AM
Great article and soooooo true!!!
Jiim Conlan
2/28/2013 at 10:18 AM
You know, every time I think VOxtra has covered every possible angle, another fine article appears. Here, I'd like to apply Roxanne's experience specifically to mistakes in narrating. Newcomers are particularly concerned about making mistakes, because they think it will reveal their rawness. I try to impress on my students the fact that their job isn't to be perfect ... but to be brilliant. Let the editor clean it up! In fact, I am such a big fan of making mistakes that I do it all the time ... apparently.
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