Have you ever thought you were good at something and then encountered others who left you in their dust? If we’re honest, we should all be answering, “Yes.” After all, we don’t become experts at something overnight. There’s always a learning curve. Even if we’ve now mastered something, others were there before us.
For some, mastering a sport or skill or creative endeavor does seem to come naturally. They don’t spend much time on that curve. Most of us, though, have to work long and hard, even when we love what we doing, be it playing baseball, crafting a beautiful piece of furniture, or writing fiction. You know the athletes who competed in the Winter Olympics earlier this month didn’t just pick up their skis, skates, and brooms last year, or even five years ago.
So it should be no surprise to me, who only started writing fiction in 2009, that my writing still has a ways to go before it’s good enough for public consumption. How do I know this? I read.
And one of the wonderful things about blogging is that I’ve met other newer writers, and, as some of them reach the big leagues (being published), I’ve had the chance to read their works. And I’m blown away by some of them.
Most recently, I read Jennifer M. Eaton’s Paper Wishes. Jennifer was kind enough to offer her 2013 top commenters a complimentary copy of one of her books, and this is the one I chose. Paper Wishes is contemporary romance. Although not my usual genre, I try to stretch my reading now and again. The blurb for the book is: Jill has no idea what she wants for Christmas, but when it looks like her best friend Jack is going to get exactly what he asks for, Jill makes a Christmas wish that will change both of their lives forever.
Even though I know how much work Jennifer put into this story, the final version reads so easily, as if the right words naturally fell into the right combinations on the page. While I was reading the story and enjoying it as a reader, the writer in me couldn’t help but take notes.
As, for example, on “Show, don’t tell.” Three simple words that describe one of the most difficult concepts for new writers to grasp. But take this sentence as an example: “I smiled as the familiar rumbling roll of my best friend’s chair ended in a bang against the outer wall of my cubicle.”
Doesn’t that speak volumes about Jack’s personality even before we meet him?
Or, how about giving a reader a clear picture of a character without flatly stating, “This person is a ***.” You know what kind of woman we’re dealing with from this single sentence: “The girls club streamed from the bathroom, leaving Monica smoothing her skirt and checking her butt in the mirror.”
These are just two examples, but they show Jennifer’s mastery of some of the key elements of story telling. And the entire story, even though it’s a short, is well-paced and provides a great balance of tension and conflict as it reaches “the end.” Looking at my own manuscripts in comparison, I see where they fell short.
The Bar is Raised
When faced with the realization that we’re not as good as we thought, we have options.
1) We can quit
We may come to understand that we’re not cut out for competition. Or we realize we’ll never be good enough to win, no matter how hard we try. And we decide to move on to something else. You know what? That’s okay. These activities are rarely life or death matters. I enjoyed riding as a young girl, but my life didn’t depend on mastering the ability to jump obstacles from the back of a horse. Beyond the financial constraints, my heart wasn’t set on becoming a professional rider. When others were obviously better than I would ever be and other interests came along, I gave up the riding lessons and didn’t look back.
2) We can keep trying
We recognize that the bar has been raised and aim to clear it, too. We can work to improve our skills. Train harder. Study more. Practice, practice, practice. We may come in last. We might fall off the horse. But we can keep at it. And over time, we may just win a round or two. At some point, others may start looking to us as the example to follow.
When it comes to writing, I’m still practicing and studying as I rebuild my two manuscripts, trying to meet the consistent quality produced by good writers. Maybe someday they still won’t be good enough, and I’ll decide to quit. But that time hasn’t come. For now at least, I’ll keep at it.
A Fun Photo
I shot this Saturday at the Library of Congress. I was playing with the panorama setting on my Galaxy S4’s camera. I love the interdimensional visitors effect.