Strive For Excellence

“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

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9 comments

  1. I think in our early stages sometimes we want to be “good enough” to get published and no efforts further. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be published or successful, but there is something wrong with only making enough effort to pass over the acceptable line. There may be times when you have to leave a work behind for a time, but I agree with you, the majority of the time writers leave their work to start a new project because of laziness, fear, etc. If our story was good enough to call finished, agents would be knocking down our doors to get to it. So if that isn’t happening, you can take that as a sign more improvement is needed.

    This is a fantastic post, I hope tons of people read it and get it.

    1. I can’t speak for anyone else, but if there is an opportunity for me to improve, I explore all those options. I think finding critique partners who strive for excellence is one of the most important steps a serious writer can take. I believe we should never stop learning and improving. Sure there may be master story tellers like Stephen King, but even he still writes his stories one word at a time and makes mistakes along the way. There is always room to grow. I’m so glad I picked up Writing the Breakout Novel. Some books speak to some readers more than others. This book seems like it was written for me. I’m excited to write again. I can’t wait to edit Eden…again. 🙂

    1. Be the best Daphne you can be. I feel like I’m trying to get you to enlist in the Army! 🙂 Not only that, but find other writers who are as serious about writing as you are. There is no greater feeling than knowing your critque partner has your best interests at heart as they push you further than you’ve ever been before. Just remember that when I read your first chapter. 😉

      1. Yikes! Just kidding. It’ll be nice to know I’m getting truthful feedback that I can do something with. Having another writer who knows what to look for and how to advise on improvements will be good.
        Just like rejections, I count truthful feedback as a good thing – they both move me closer towards a better manuscript that can be published.

        Jae ~ thanks for solidifying the terror. 😉

  2. I completely agree with you. The only thing that would make me say that she should work on the new project first is if she just wanted to get the idea down so she wouldn’t forget about it. But I totally believe that anyone who writes owes it to their stories and to their potential readers to make that story the best story possible. Heck, they owe it the most to themselves.

    1. Yeah, I don’t want it to seem like I’m picking on anyone, because I’m not. Each writer has their own way of doing things, and rightly so. I couldn’t believe how many other writers encouraged this person to start something new simply for the sake of starting something new. Many writers don’t even finish that first manuscript. But just finishing isn’t good enough. As you said, we owe it to ourselves to be the best writer we can be. One of the most frustrating things about the writing process is there is no right, or wrong, way to write a novel. When writers ask for advice, other writers seem to come out of the woodwork. We should ask ourselves (and I’m including anything seen on this blog) why we should listen. Does this person make sense? Are they dedicated to the craft of writing? And even then the decision still belongs to the person writing the story. It can be tough. This post, while inspired by one writer, was meant for anyone struggling with what to do next. Two simple words can sum things up: don’t settle. Thanks, as always, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  3. Timely blog piece! I just came across this article by Dean Wesley Smith (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=5097) and his modus operandi is to skip anything more than line edits. No structural revising, no rewriting. Just try to understand where you failed and apply that lesson to the next book.

    That said, I think each writer has their own way of doing things. It may even be that there is no right/wrong way to do it, just multiple paths to the same goal. Unfortunately it’s probably one of those things that we don’t know until we go through the process one way or another.

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