Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fiction and Figure Skating?

Perhaps. Unrelated as these seem, they’re alike in capacity to achieve excellence via more than one path. Skaters can rack up points for athleticism or artistry, while writers can magnetize readers with suspense, aesthetics, or other gifts.

If your aesthetics are glorious enough, you might get to compete in the Olympics even if other guys jump higher, quicker, more often, and with additional rotations. Put another way, you can make a few mistakes in an ambitious program or execute a less ambitious program with near-perfect exquisiteness. As a writer, you can have an ambitious scenario that leaves some room for weaknesses, or something simpler that you deliver perfectly.

Tip: If you’re great enough at one thing, you might not have to be great at everything.

This doesn’t mean that you should disregard your weaknesses (c’mon, you know what they are). Nor is it permission rationalize about those few painfully clumsy sentences or pages painfully free of tension (at least on the characters’ part).

It does mean that assessing your strengths and weakness will take you far—maybe all the way to the “gold,” whether skating or writing.

~ Say you want to start with your strengths. You’ll need detailed description. Picture the person who most loves your writing. If that’s not you, it might be your writing partner, mentor, spouse, or friend. From the perspective of this admirer, compose a short blurb raving about attributes. Don’t hold back! Such an original, charming, yet authentic voice. Such mastery of the long, flowing, embedded sentence. Such understanding of human psychology—not only of motivation but secrets, desires, and impetus for change.

~ Want to start with your weaknesses? A list will do; many writers excel at despising weaknesses rather than extolling strengths. Admit what you don’t like: parts of the plot are contrived; you start lots of scenes the same way; the dialogue goes on too long, or appreciating and adoring those present participles can prove annoying and maddening. Make a column of weaknesses. Match each one with an asset. You don’t get to quit until the number of strengths equals the number of tiny or terrible troubles. Play fair.

Writing is hard. On rough days some might compare it to Olympic competition. To keep going, you have to believe in yourself and your words. Being perfect is harder still. Isn’t it fabulous to know that you needn’t be perfect or excel at every single thing?  There’s more than one way to excellence. Athleticism or artistry—your choice.

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