It’s ok to forget how to write characters sometimes.
It happens all the time, even among highly-educated native speakers. There’s a term for it: 提筆忘字/提笔忘字 (roughly, pick up a pen and forget how to write). With thousands of characters to memorize, it’s only natural to forget how to write them sometimes.
I don’t worry about it too much though, and here’s why.
Below is 寒食帖, a scroll with two poems, and one of the most famous works by one of the most famous calligraphers and poets in history, Su Shi (蘇軾/苏轼):
The four dots I’ve circled in red in two different places serve to tell the reader to ignore those characters, much like crossing out text in English. Now, he didn’t forget how to write the characters in question, he simply wrote the wrong character. The small character I’ve circled in red near the bottom was skipped and then added in later. It looks like he originally wrote 何殊少年子 and then perhaps realized that didn’t fit the rhyme scheme he wanted, or something, so he changed it to 何殊病少年. Whoops.
So the point is, Su Shi made these mistakes, and that scroll still went on to become one of the most famous works of calligraphy in the history of China. And if that’s the case, then as a non-native speaker, I (and you!) can certainly forget how to write a character occasionally without worrying too much about it.
Here are the poems for comparison. I’ve arranged them according to their meter rather than according to where it appears on the scroll. Simplified appears below, and an English translation below that.
And in simplified:
Since I came to Huangzhou, I passed
Three Cold-food days devot’d to fast.
Each year I wish fair spring to stay,
But spring will go without delay.
This year again we suffer from rains,
For two months, dreary autumn reigns.
Lying in bed, I smell crab-apple flowers,
Upon whose rouge and snow mud showers.
The rouge has taken stealthy flight,
Borne away by the Strong at midnight.
The snow is like a sick youth’s head
Turning white when he’s up from his bed.
Spring flood is coming up to my gate,
My small cot looks like a fishing boat.
The pouring rain will not abate,
My cot on misty waves will float.
I cook food in a kitchen in decay,
And burn wet reeds in a cracked stove.
Who can tell ’tis the Cold-food day,
But for the money-paper burned above?
The royal palace has gate on gate;
My household graves far away lie.
At the road’s end I’d lament my fate,
But dead ashes blown up cannot fly.
* From Selected Poems of Su Shi, translated into English by Xu Yuanchong.