Wednesday 30 September 2009

WRITING TIP: In Pursuit of Excellence (Part 4)

In Pursuit of Excellence (Part 1) we asked how could we, as authors, pursue excellence?

In Pursuit of Excellence (Part 2) we explored how we pursue excellence in our writing by preparing the mind.

In Pursuit of Excellence (Part 3) we began building towards excellence.

And, in today's post - the last in the series - we will learn how to realise excellence.


Consistency: Write with consciousness, not habitually. It’s important – particularly in the editing process - to be aware of how our writing habits affect the level of consistent excellence in our work. Inconsistent writing means that there are parts of our story that are less than excellent and we need to root out those parts and rewrite to a consistently high level.

Balance: The pursuit of excellence is not free of its own dangers. We can become so hooked on checking this word and on searching how to improve that paragraph, that we expect perfection before we dare let others see our work. Keeping a balanced view is essential or else we can use our search for excellence as an excuse to procrastinate. Strive for excellence, but always remember that there comes a point where, on our own, we can do no better than what lies before us on our page. There comes a time we need to accept that we’ve done the best we can for now. And that’s when we must send our work out into the world, to stand alone and face the test of the unknown reader.

Resilience: If our manuscript comes back to us with the dreaded word “Rejected” on it, we need to be able to bounce back and start again. And again. And again.

Life isn’t about how hard you can hit;

it’s about how hard you can be hit...and still get up.
Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone)
Team Spirit: In South Africa, we are sporting mad. Rugby, soccer, cricket. We love them all. Currently, our rugby team is riding high. Our Springbok captain, John Smit, having led the team through record-breaking international victories starting with the World Cup Championship in 2007, led his team to an unprecedented victory in the 2009 Tri-Nations competition. Two cups were up for grabs.

At the awards presentation, Smit went up to collect the lesser valued Freedom Cup. Then, unexpectedly, he called his vice-captain, the bearded giant Victor Matfield, up to the podium and indicated that he must have the honour of lifting the more coveted Tri-Nations trophy aloft. In doing so, Smit proved he is a leader of excellence: confident, yet humble, he leads by example and knows that the victory is not his alone to savour.

Every writer who pursues excellence in the writing craft must realise that, on the day our debut novel is birthed, the triumph is not ours alone. Ours may be the name on the cover but, surprisingly, writing is a team effort. In the same way that John Smit acknowledged the help of his team in winning the trophy, we should acknowledge that we need the help of crit partners, blog friends, agents, editors, marketers (and even the publisher's tea lady) to get our stories into the hands of our readers. All that can be truly ours in the writing process is the continued pursuit of personal excellence in our craft.

Without a doubt, technology has made our lives as writers easier. It also, however, tempts us into forgetting that every book, every word we write, demands the very best of what we can do.

When a flower blooms deep in a forest, its fragrance unnoticed, is it any less beautiful? So to our manuscripts. Even if we are the only ones who ever read our stories, remember this: the writer who constantly pursues personal excellence in every aspect of his writing craft is the writer who has the best chance of eventually being published. And he may even become the Ernest Hemingway of this generation.


septembermom said...

Wonderful post Ann. Much wisdom here. I agree that we have to walk a fine line between the pursuit of excellence and over analyzing every word or paragraph. As writers, we do have to first feel comfortable enough "in our writer's shoes" to acknowledge that both the writing and the writer will go through an evolution during the creative process. We will put it all out there and hope for some acceptance or appreciation.

Also, I agree that it is important to see writing as a team achievement. We can't underestimate all of the direct and indirect participation of those in our writing and personal lives. Thanks for another great post, Ann.

Ann Victor said...

SEPTEMBERMOM: I agree! Every writer has to evolve through the creative process. I suggest, however, that once we reach a certain point of that evolution we move beyond needing external validation and appreciation and begin to write for the joy of it. But there's no denying that external validation (such as being published) would be a wonderful bonus!

Chiron said...

Part 1-4 all hit home for me, Ann! Thanks for an insightful post and enjoyable read.

I also love that the focus is on Excellence, not perfection. Too many authors train their attention on the erroneous quest for perfection. Yet the idea of 'perfection' always struck me as sterile and uncompromising, and now that I think about it, strangely arrogant. Perfect or IMperfect? Hmmmm?

Excellence though is a word that reverberates through the soul. Rather than focusing inward to shave off the flaws, excellence suggests reaching out and exploding with flavor.


EXCELLENT articles, Ann. Thanks!

--Chiron O'Keefe
The Write Soul:

Ann Victor said...

CHIRON: Well put! Perfection *is* uncompromising, where excellence is flexible and fluid. Perfection focuses on our flaws, while excellence focuses on our strengths. Glad you enjoyed the series.

Robyn Campbell said...

Ann, when I first started writing, I over analyzed every word to the point of sheer exhaustion and disgust. Since then I am doing better with it, but I still find myself rereading my chapters over and over and over again. Then I tell myself to stop and come back in a month or two. When the excellence factor becomes a memory and I can edit knowing there will NEVER be excellence. Only partial excellence. :0) Hehehe

Great posts Ann. I've copied them and will return to them from time to time as the need arises. Hope you don't mind. Thanks

Anita said...

WOW! I've seen a lot of the collaboration theme out in cyberland recently. Maybe I just need to get an agent to actually see this happening, because I've had very little collaboration with anyone in my writing experiences thus far...I'm talking more than a decade of freelance writing. Very strange. I mean, I'm not a hermit. And I think I work well with others (in other areas, I work on teams all the time), but I haven't done much collaborating on my books, for sure. Not that I'm opposed to it, necessarily. But now I'm rambling...thanks for getting me thinking AGAIN, Ann! Excellent post, as usual!

Amanda Holly said...

Yet another post which makes me itch to zone out reality and write, write, write!

This series has been so motivational - you really should consider taking on a teaching/mentor role in the writing community! You're such a natural.

Ann Victor said...

ROBYN: I'm also an over-analyser of note. :( And I'm pleased you feel you can use the posts again!

ANITA: Yes, it's strange. I planned this series of posts a while ago and now that I post them, there seems to be a sudden surge of blogtalk on collaboration. Synchronicity can be weird! The only collaboration I've done is with the lovely ladies of my a small crit-group I belong to. It's a great way to learn to work as an individual writer and as part of a writing team. But I do think the real collaboration comes once one is accepted by an agent or publisher.

AMANDA: I hope you *are* writing, writing, writing! Glad you found the series motivating. Let's hope they can motivate me as well!!

Judith Mercado said...

This has been an excellent series. I wait to read the individual posts until I know I have enough time to savor them fully. I'm sure they'll be reread multiple times.

Ann Victor said...

JUDITH: Thanks for your kind comment. I'm glad you savoured the posts!! :)

Judith Mercado said...

Ann, this is unrelated to this post. I've just now watched the Elizabeth Gilbert video which I simply loved. She's a wonderful mixture of someone who is solidly grounded and still open to the Other. A gifted speaker as well. Thanks for the suggestion.

Ann Victor said...

JUDITH: The Elizabeth Gilbert video was superb, wasn't it? I found it hugely inspiring!

Lady Glamis said...

Your words are so absolutely inspiring!!! Writing is a team effort for me, all the way. My husband, especially, helps me more than anybody else. It even gets us closer together. It's such a great experience.

And boy, do I know about the balance thing. It's so hard for me to gauge when I should stop being a perfectionist and just hand the work over for some critique!

Ann Victor said...

LADY GLAMIS: Yes, I'm lucky enough to have a very supportive husband as well. Bless their hearts!! And balance *is* just such a difficult thing to sustain over long periods!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Ann, thanks for these excellent posts. You've reminded me that excellence in writing should be the goal every where- even in our blogs, our e-mails and our tweets.

You inspire me as always! Cheers~

Ann Victor said...

NANCY: Thanks for taking the time to read all the series. :) It's good to know you could take something useful from them!

Anita said...

I don't know what Moonrat edits, but I'd love to work with her, because her personality is so great...that must help, don't you think?

Marilyn Brant said...

Ann, once again you've said this so well. And I think you're 120% right about a debut book being an enormous team effort. Seeing it happen this year was an eye-opening experience: The incredible work done by the cover artist...the exacting reading of the text by the copyeditor...the marketing plans of the publicity and sales departments... Writing the story was truly only the beginning.

I felt unbelievably lucky to have such a great team behind me. This second time around, I'm going into the process even more in awe of their work than before.


Ann Victor said...

ANITA: Yes, I agree an enthusiastic editor or agent must make collaboration so easy :)

MARILYN: I've been getting such a vicarious thrill following your exciting debut on your blog! Your learning curve must have taken such a sharp upcurve after "According to Jane" was accepted! Learning new skills (like working with cover artists, marketing ete) must be a fabulous way to keep the writing energy flowing!

Robyn Campbell said...

Ann, just checking in. Maybe you're writing and busy. I was just missing your posts. Take care and know how much I appreciate you. :)