Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Making it Better

Foundry via Pixabay
Many writers toil in relative obscurity. Some are good -- really good -- while others are much better than they think they are. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. Practice has enhanced our skill set, and consistently chipping away at our craft has sharpened our skills so that most of the work we create lies somewhere north of cringeworthy and somewhere south of stellar.

But we chip away.

Today, over at Organizing By STYLE, I'm writing about "making it better" from an organizational perspective and, this morning, it occurred to me that that topic applies to writing -- and much of life, for that matter -- as well. When it comes to any task, whether we love it or hate it, getting it done is a matter of pushing past the procrastination, getting started and, little by little, making it better.

I have three writing projects in the works right now. One is a kind of unique project, requiring creativity as much ideas and writing skill. Making it better means a combination of planning, sketching, writing and creating, one page, then one section at a time.

The second project is the first draft of a novel with familiar characters. For this book, making it better merely means putting words on the page. If I get ahead of myself and expect it to look like a second draft, one where everything hangs together and there are clear story threads and no loose ends, it's easy to get stuck in the procrastination stage and put nothing on the page. Making it better means adding to the content one sentence, one paragraph, one scene at a time.

The third project is a revision of a book that's been gathering dust in a drawer for a long, long time. Making it better in this case means trimming -- cutting, even -- and uncovering the heart of the story beneath the clutter of far too many words. Where adding to the projects above makes them better, at least for now, subtracting from this third project is what will make it better. Cleaning and tightening, pruning the words back so the story beneath will bloom.

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell made the argument that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything. I know I'm not an expert yet, but I also know I'm past the stage where pure love of the craft is what drives me. What drives me now is making it better. Making each story, each project, each book better than the last.

In the midst of the action, though, it's hard to see whether or not I'm actually accomplishing anything at all. It's only in chipping away, counting pages sketched or gained or lost that I can see progress and hope that I'm reading my goal.

Making it better.

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