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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Take Your Worst Thing and Make it Your Best. Repeat.

I take an adult gymnastics class on Wednesdays (no really, I do), and as I went to get water one week I passed a group of girls working out on beam. Their coach was frustrated with one of the girls, who was complaining that beam was her worst event, and what the coach said stuck with me. "Take your worst event and make it your best. Then repeat."

She wanted her student to work at beam the hardest, with more determination than she worked at bars, vault, and floor, until it was her best, most consistent event. Then her originally third-best event would be her worst, and she should work at that event the hardest until it was her best, most consistent event, and so on, ad nauseum.

Though my days of competing gymnastics are long over, the coach's advice has stuck with me. "Take your worst thing and make it your best. Then repeat." Several times this week, I've mentioned to my CPs or other writing friends that I can write sentences better than I can plot, and that I focused so hard on a passable plot I forgot to write a well-rounded main character. I gave her a desire and a flaw, but not much to like about her.

It's easy for me to tell myself that writing excellent sentences and a decent plot should be good enough, that I'm just not good at characterization the same way the girl at gymnastics isn't good on beam. But I can hear the coach in my head now: take what you're worst at and make it your best. Subconsciously, though, this is what I've been doing since I started taking writing seriously five years ago. In 2012, I was worst at writing believable characters. So I practiced, short story after short story, until I was better at writing believable characters than I was at writing dialogue, or plot, and so on and so on.

Now, five years down the road, I think I've cycled through my list: I'm back to having characterization as the weakest point in my writing set. This time around, to use another gymnastics analogy, my start value is higher. I'm working from a better base. And when I make it through the list again in another five or however many years, I hope to have improved even more.

What is your "worst event" when it comes to writing right now? There's the elements of a novel: pacing, description, dialogue, characterization, theme, etc., but there's also the meta-skills of query writing, marketing, building a readership. Figure it out. But instead of accepting it as a weak point in your resume, a place where your score will always be lower, work at it with a vengeance, until it is your best. Then find your next weakest point and do it again.

Rochelle Deans is an editor and author who prefers perfecting words to writing them. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two young children. Her bad habits include mispronouncing words, correcting grammar, and spending far too much time on the Internet.

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