AN MbC MUST-READ: Ten Steps to Overnight Success… (part 6)

6) Constantly improve…but don’t overstudy.


Writing is one of the best pastimes in the world. It can be done virtually anywhere. Give me a piece of charcoal and a light surface and I am good to go. It can also be done for the entirety of one’s life — unlike, say, hockey or Ultimate Fighting, which tend to get much harder once you hit eighty or ninety.


It is also wonderful because you can constantly improve. No matter how accomplished, no matter how many publications you have under your belt, you can always learn something new. But that learning should not ever take the place of actually doing.


I was a missionary in Paraguay for two years. At one point during my service, I was in charge of giving training sessions to large groups of missionaries. This usually meant a three-hour torture session comprised of reading dry excerpts of manuals that most of us had already memorized. I decided to be different. I decided to be interesting. I decided to put on a show!


And did I ever! Every single missionary in the audience agreed it was one of the best training sessions they had ever had.


Then I spoke to the Mission President. He barely said anything about what I had perceived as a stunning success and quite possibly an evolutionary leap in the way church training sessions could be taught.


Finally, after talking to me about the missionaries in my care, the idiosyncrasies of the area I was working in, and sundry other items, he got around to his opinion of the training session. It was short:


“Did it ever occur to you that we have boring meetings for a reason? Did it ever occur to you that maybe we want them having more fun in the work than in the training?”


Though I do think that there is some room for a bit of fun in most things, the point was well-taken, and applies extremely well to writing. I have noted many writers who started off “hot” — the next big thing in fantasy, or sci-fi, or horror. They had a book or two hit the bestseller lists.


Then something happened.


They started being (gasp!) guest speakers at various symposia. They started lecturing on how to write.


And they forgot to actually keep writing. Or, at best, writing became their second form of amusement instead of their primary form of expression.


Similarly, we as writers must always improve ourselves. But we must not be sucked into the trap of “constant improvement, minimal accomplishment.” Read a book on characterization, fine. But then apply it immediately by writing a novel in which you have as a secondary goal (the first should always be to tell a good story) that you will write your best, most complex, interesting, three-dimensional characters.


Don’t miss the forest for the trees. And don’t miss the writing for the smug satisfaction that comes with just “learning” something.