Freestyle Friday: Becoming a Writer

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I realized two things recently about my fiction writing. One of them should have been evident from the beginning: that I have trouble finishing what I start (that’s the thing that kills most writers’ dreams. You can’t work on the same novel for ten years and expect anything to happen, and you can’t do a thing with twenty half-finished stories).

The other is a little more humbling and required a good big of introspection and distance: I don’t yet have the writing skill I need. I’m not yet good enough.

(That “YET” is a key part of this. It goes back to the Growth Mindset, which I discuss in my Willpower Wednesdays posts).

What it took for me to realize this was writing something that was actually good. I mean, really, really good in the sense of being everything I wanted it to be:

  • An engaging and relatable main character (Polly)
    • with a real reason to be out doing what she’s doing
    • and with real agency within the plot (she drives the whole thing, really)
  • A fast pace, with lots of kinetic action
  • Protagonists who do not solve their problems with violence
    • Specifically, a narrative that refutes the myth of redemptive violence at every turn
    • Without actually heavy-handedly mentioning that it’s doing so
  • Breezy reading style (meaning it reads quickly)
  • Vivid descriptions, with lots of nice set pieces (it would make a good movie)
  • A positive, joyful vibe that made it a pleasure to write

… and then trying and failing for two and a half years to make lightning strike twice.

I know what I want to write. I wrote what I want to write. But I don’t have the skill to write it again … yet.

This means I’m not really ready to be writing fiction right now. This means that I need to do what I should have done twenty+ years ago … sit down and spend a few months (or more) actively practicing my fiction skills every day.

I’m still researching the best ways to do this, but I’ve got a tentative plan. Since my biggest issue is not being able to recreate a protagonist who is relatable enough and relatably driven enough to drive the whole plot of a novel, I’m going to start by writing short stories (using a short story-writing textbook I’ve found), aiming to create characters relatable enough and relatably driven enough to drive short works. With enough practice driving 2000-3000 word stories, I’ll hopefully get the fundamentals and be able to drive novellas and novels.

Along the way, I’ll try to improve my technical skills (more on that in a later post), but that driving force protagonist is the main missing piece. So that’s what I’ll work on first.

Things are all coming together in a way. If I hadn’t been studying Grit and its associated factors (including the Growth Mindset and deliberate practice), I doubt I would have ever thought to do this.

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Theory Thursday: The Power of Consistency

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” way back in 1841, but in 2016, I say “A lack of consistency is the blood-sucking leech of all our minds.”

You’ve probably guessed by now that this ties in with Grit. Dr. Duckworth’s book is full ofthe importance of consistency. Consistency is the key, but don’t take my word for it:

Comedian Louis C.K., in a July 6, 2011 interview with the A/V Club, said “I’ve learned from experience that if you work harder at it, and apply more energy and time to it, and more consistency, you get a better result. It comes from the work.”

John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach, famously said, “Self-Control creates consistency. Consistency is crucial to getting to the top and staying there.”

Kevin Nash, the famous pro-wrestler, was once asked if he had any workout secrets or tips he could share with the readers. Rather than reply with his customary swaggering humor, he gave a one-word answer: “Consistency.” (I wish I could find the link to this interview, but it’s been 15 years or so since I watched wrestling. The answer stuck with me…Nash, by the way, is still working at age 56, albeit at a reduced pace. That’s consistency.).

Sean “Seanwes” McCabe explains in a video and article the importance of consistency: “Show Up Every Day for Two Years.” It’s his “secret” to building a platform and a following as an author and web personality.

Just google “importance of consistency”, and you’ll get several days of reading material. Or try “consistency in parenting” for even more googly goodness.

Consistency is everything, and it’s the hardest thing for some of us (myself especially) to practice.

Why is it so important? Partly because the only way to get better at something is to do it, over and over again, usually in the form of deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice means doing the hard work to improve skills, working on the weak spots rather than doing what’s most fun. It’s playing scales or replaying the three measures you never can get right, rather than breezing through the rest of the song. It’s the difference between rehearsal and just singing through a few songs.

I’ll write more about deliberate practice later, but it’s the hard work that makes you better at whatever it is you’re doing. You can get a little better by just playing through, but you’ll never really attain mastery without breaking it down and practicing hard.

And one day of practice isn’t enough. You need to do it every day. Maybe you can take weekends off like you do in your day job. Maybe you can take Christmas and Thanksgiving off. Maybe not. But you have to hit it like a real job, every day.

Health is the same way. If I eat vegan 2-3 random days a week, what good does that do for me or the environment or anyone?

I can tell you what good my sporadic attempts at exercise have done for me: nada. Zilch. Zip.

And if you’re trying to build a presence online, you need to put out content that someone out there finds encouraging, entertaining, informative, inspiring, or otherwise valuable, and you need to do it on a regular, reliable basis. Whenever you want won’t cut it.

Consistency is everything.

But consistency is HARD. Developing consistency requires commitment, courage, time management, energy, time, and a few other ingredients that I honestly don’t understand yet.

And in the course of my Grit studies, I’ll be looking for those ingredients. Because I need consistency, and so do my students.