The elusiveness of excellence

When we writers charge into the realm of priming the pump for words to adorn the printed page, it’s always a challenge to make what we write good enough to be worthy of reading. It’s not difficult to fill a page with drivel, but to put something down that is good to read, that is entertaining, that is worthy of the dream of doing something well, that is the challenge that is part and parcel of the labor of any writer who is serious about their work. Many things get in the way of good writing. Significant emotional events, fatigue, the thousands of little tasks required by modern living (let’s do the recycling and mow the grass and fill the bird feeders and clean the litter boxes and and and and and and … ) seem to blunder their way into the worlds in our minds and interrupt the flow. Distractions all too easily shatter the carefully crafted illusions in our minds and dam the flow. One way of beating the effect of being nibbled to death by ducks is to take on the persona of a curmudgeon and just shut the door on all your loved ones for the time you’re writing. It’s a difficult thing to do, writing. It must be done alone if one is to hear their own voice and if that voice is to aspire to reach a level of excellence. I know that when I see something well done, no matter what it is, I feel a sense of joy. Whether it’s art or dance or an actor strutting his stuff upon the stage, if it’s done well, really well, there is a joy that transcends the experiences of daily life. What does it take to be really good at something? The first thing is desire. You have to like what you’re doing. And dovetailed into that desire is the 10,000 hour rule. That rule says that to become a virtuoso at something, whether it’s writing or baseball or the piano, you need to have practiced about 10,000 hours. I’m not certain I buy into that completely, but the point is made that time has to be put in, time and opportunity to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes. Eye mayke bunches of misteaks myself, every day. But a lesson here is, even in the midst of aspiring to excellence, of not being overly afraid of mistakes. Everyone makes them, especially when they’re first starting a new endeavor. Just accept that there’s going to be a little pain and that pain is the glue that makes learning stick. There’s an old sailor’s adage that ‘Lessons earned are better than lessons learned if the cost ain’t too dear.’ Remember that Einstein certainly made adding errors, that Sir Lawrence Olivier flubbed lines and that Rudolf Nureyev fell on his ass many times before they achieved what they are rightfully famous for. None of us want to make mistakes, but the trick is to not fear them, don’t let them freeze us from doing what we love.

So for me, some mornings I know I’m going to write crap. So go ahead and write crap, enjoy it, learn from it. Chances are very good that when you go back and read it later, it won’t be as bad as you thought. Besides, books are not so much written as they are re-written, rough drafts are supposed to be, well, rough. That’s what revisions are for. Even Barrie was revising Peter Pan right up until his death.

So don’t worry so much about it. Just go ahead and write, learn, smile and enjoy. As long as you keep at it, you will be excellent.