“Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.”—Ralph Marsten
No matter what you do, people judge you based on how well you do, or don’t do, something. It’s just a fact of life. Waitress? People judge how good you are by your knowledge of the specials, how courteous you are, and how quickly the food arrives. It’s logical to assume the better you do your job, the more people will notice. The better the tips will be too.
I can hear many of you asking, “What’s this have to do with me and my writing?” I’m glad you asked.
A few weeks ago, a writer asked if they should go back and fix their first manuscript or start something new. A bit of back story may help. This writer had been reading books on the craft of writing and saw how they could improve a work they had “finished” but they wanted to move on to something new. I could relate. I’ve been “finished” with Eden more times than I’d like to admit. Each time I feel like I can’t improve anymore, I do. I push through my own limits. It sounded like this writer was ready to do the same and I was happy for them.
The responses were 99% for moving on. The other 1% urged this writer to take what they’ve learned and improve that “finished” manuscript. I was surprised by how many others encouraged this writer to knowingly leave their manuscript flawed in order to start another project. Why wouldn’t those 99% want to be the best writer they could be and encourage others to do the same? It didn’t make sense.
I’ve been reading Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and he couldn’t stress striving for excellence in our writing more. My parents used to tell me if I was going to do something, make sure I do it right. The problem is sometimes we don’t know we’re doing something wrong. But if we discover ways to improve, don’t we owe it to our story, readers, and ourselves to do those things? Why leave our manuscript flawed?
When writers breakout and become a best-seller, is it magic? Mr. Maass says no. He says it is aiming high. It is learning and developing the methods to tell a breakout level story and not settling for anything less. I was so relieved to read that statement and I couldn’t agree more. I wanted to shout it out to the world. Aim high people. Don’t settle for good enough.
I was beginning to think I was crazy for holding my writing, and myself, to such high standards. I constantly push myself to get better, to learn something new, and to evolve as a writer/person. There isn’t a person out there who is tougher on their writing than I am with mine. I know where I want to be, and even though my writing is light years beyond yesterday, I’m not there yet. So I keep reaching for the bar above, which I set so high.
Get to the point, Brian. Sorry. The point is surround yourself with people who strive for the best and will accept nothing less of you. Sometimes we have to go above and beyond what we believe we’re capable of in order to grow. I recently told a friend of mine, “Don’t feel bad about wanting the best in your writing, in my writing, or in anyone else’s writing for that matter. It’s the only way you’ll become the best yourself.”
If all you want is to be good enough, then that’s all you’ll ever be. But if you want to seriously improve and become the best storyteller you can be, then you must reach higher. Anyone who has ever, and will ever, work with me will get my best. I will push them, expecting the very best they have to offer. I expect them to do the same for me. If we can surround ourselves with excellence, it will become commonplace. Excellence will be our standard.
So go ahead and push me, question my characters, and challenge that sub-plot. You aren’t hurting my feelings, you’re helping me push past my limits. Character month wouldn’t have happened without my critique partners challenging my characters. My story has grown as a result.
Don’t be good, be excellent. And please don’t settle for anything less than the best in your writing. Someday your readers, and fans, will thank you for it.
“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”–Colin Powell