This weekend finds me in St. Louis wearing my dance mom hat, though not literally. (I do see an awful lotof dance mom and dad shirts, but I don’t own one.) It’s the end of dance competition season with various dance companies hosting their “nationals.” They judge the girls on technique, style and even their costumes, and award them with “levels” such as Diamond, Elite and Top first as well as “overalls.” The goal is to make it to top overalls in your category, a lot like writers making it to a best-seller list, any list, as slim as that category might be. What sets the Diamonds apart? I’m speaking as an observer, noting three things that seems to make a difference and parallels the creative’s journey.
- Confidence. They kill it. When you see a great routine, they don’t hesitate, don’t look at the other girls. They know the moves and bring their passion. They don’t hold back. Great writing is the same way. The reader can’t wait to get to the next paragraph, page, chapter. A confident writer knows where the story will take them and sweeps the reader up in the story. Diamond dancers have stage presence, own the stage. We can’t take our eyes off of them. They leave us wanting More. Most of all, we’re entertained.
- Practice. I often talk about Malcom Gladwell’s Outlier theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. Whatever your art, the more you do it, the better you should get at it. Because writing is a blend of fundamentals (like company girls being required to take ballet) and style, the more you write, the easier the writing will get. And by “easy”, I mean you will actually be able to plot a story in your head and understand how to master a character’s arc and theme without having to even reference a writer’s manual because you just know it. A great dancer can learn choreography fairly quickly because they know the moves and put the story together.
- Perseverance. People who love what they do seem to work a little harder to get it just right. In dance that may be more practice, more rehearsals and working on the parts they are struggling with until they get it. For the writer, that’s the revision process and honing the story until it’s just right, passing it off for critique, sharing it with others, entering it into contests and getting feedback and revising some more. If a writer is struggling with pulling off believable dialogue, for example, the answer isn’t to not write as much dialogue but to write dialogue every day until it smooths out and becomes as effortless as the parts you have already mastered. Perseverance also means never giving up – not when you get rejections, don’t win the contest, don’t sell as many books as your publisher would like. Keep writing. Keep perfecting. Try something new.
It’s not impossible to achieve Diamond Elite status in our writing. Keep at it.
Last week I wrote about decoding the reasons why our manuscripts aren’t picked up by a publisher. Pop over to Girlfriends Book Club to check it out. If you enjoy trying new recipes, download the free Pool Boy companion featuring 10 recipes by Buzz Books authors and friends.