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On Getting Better

February 28, 2014

See the ongoing discussion at Buried under Books:

Here’s what I contributed:

Being a great writer–or at least a great writer anyone knows about–means being a good writer and getting lucky:


Timely, huh?


When we’re talking about fiction, there are two intertwined yet distinct elements: the craft of making words do what you want, and the art of having something to say–at length, for novels–that people want to hear. Good writers, like all artists, master both.


But those are the results; the output desired, not the input required. To achieve mastery in any field requires a combination of native ability and dedication. The more you have of one, the less you need of the other, although “less” here is a relative term. No amount of ability will do you any good if you aren’t willing to sit down and produce, and *keep* producing despite obstacles, rejections, distractions, and the annoying need to sleep.


On the other hand, for some folks, a lifetime of total dedication is not long enough to lift their prose out of the mire or make their stories engage with anyone other than themselves. As some are tone-deaf, I believe others are prose-deaf, unable to tell the difference between incisive depictions of gut-wrenching tales and the average grocery list. At least the tone-deaf can be drummers.


But that’s not saying they’re born that way. I think anyone with fairly normal cognitive capabilities, raised from birth with stories, prose and poetry (yes, poetry, and if you don’t know why this isn’t the place to explain it) will develop an ear and an eye for written expression. Miss that window, though, and the prospects dim.


Which brings us back to dedication. That, I believe, is more a matter of inborn temperament. You have to have a capacity for want, for need, for bottomless desire, if you want to survive in a creative field. Only that level of motivation enables you to develop the pachyderm hide, the resilience, to persevere when things don’t work out the first, or the second, or the thirty-third time.


One thing I’d like to add: the other thing that happens when you’re dedicated? You can get better, even if you started off pretty good. Doing something, having people who know what they’re talking about critique it, and then doing more of it, is (so far as I can tell) the ONLY way to get better.

At anything. 


One Comment leave one →
  1. March 3, 2014 6:11 pm

    Jeffrey, thank you for contributing over on Buried Under Books. I do think you’re right about needing both native ability and dedication 😉

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