Craft,  Creativity

An Argument For Doing Your Best

Are you doing your very best in your work-in-progress?

“No matter our talent, we all know in the midnight of our souls that 90 percent of what we do is less than our best . . . . and if you make brilliant choices to find that 10 percent of excellence and burn the rest, every scene will fascinate and the world will sit in awe of your genius.” 

In Story: Structure, Substance, and Style, the Principles of Screenwriting, expert Robert McKee’s statement above may have the potential for stepping on your creative toes. 

He continues: 

“No one has to see your failures unless you add vanity to folly and exhibit them. Genius consists not only of the power to create expressive beats and scenes but of the taste, judgment and will to weed out and destroy banalities, conceits, false notes, and lies.”

I find this interesting and somewhat challenging. I’d definitely want to be considered a genius, so if, according to McKee, I would be taken more seriously if I worked hard on my craft and was far more careful with the quality of my writing. 

How Can I Do That? 

  1. Don’t rush to publish. Just because my story can be uploaded on Kindle Direct doesn’t mean I should. Instead, I should edit the snot out of it, get friends to critique it, beta readers to question it, and then consider launching it to the world. 
  2. Make writing a daily habit; have a goal and stick to it. The difference between the mediocre and the brilliant is that the brilliant has practiced and failed a million times. I write every day. I need to keep doing this as if my career depended on it. 
  3. Don’t just read my genre, study the very best books of my genre. And by best, I mean the critically acclaimed ones, not the commercially successful ones. There’s a lot to learn from the Man Booker prizewinners, even if I don’t quite understand them. 
  4. Be honest with how good I am. This is probably the trickiest task on this list. I’m going to interpret it as taking chances with better writers. I also need to stop looking at myself as “good”. It would b healthier to identify as “constantly improving.”
  5. Consider the possibility that I previously rushed to publish out of vanity. Oh yeah! This has happened. I’ve finished a book and wanted it to get into the hands of readers as soon as possible! The better strategy is to sit on it, be patient, and iron out all the wrinkles before I hit Send on Kindle Direct.  
  6. Study all I can on how to detect “banalities, conceits, false notes and lies.” There’s no better way to do that than to learn from masters. I’ve invested in good craft books, attended conferences, and watched videos. And I try not to waste my time on those teachers who are guilty of these very crimes. 
  7. Be careful who I associate with. We often never rise above the level or our communities. I seek out those that will challenge me to stretch myself in new ways. 
  8. Remove “it’s good enough” from my vocabulary. The world doesn’t need another mediocre book. The world does need powerful stories that resonate truth. 

It’s one thing to write. It’s quite another to “fascinate” and have the world “sit in awe of my genius.” The former is easy. The latter may cost me time and my heart. 

I think though, that it is worth it. 

Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.