Kicking it up a Notch

While drafting a contract the other day, I had a revelation that had nothing to do with law.

Each of us has something we aspire to (some of us many things) and other things we do well. Sometimes those skills overlap, but often they don’t at first. The key to achieving a dream is in the achievement – in working until we perform the desired skill with competence and grace.

The case in point is writing.

I write contracts for a living, historical fiction “on the side.” I’ve been writing fiction for many years, but started focusing on craft about three years ago. I have finished a novel, and then some. I have editing partners, beta readers, and a library full of books to learn from. I think I write fairly well (at least on my better days) but something was missing – something I learned at the office, and from a source I least expected.

Let’s call it The Most Boring Business Contract On The Planet.

You know the type – full of herebys and therefores and the ubiquitous sub-paragraphs labeled (a), (b), (c), (d), (e). The kind lawyers write and normal people read only when the Nytol bottle runs dry. (I’m the first to admit my work can cure insomnia. My law partner would be the second…) After I finished writing it (and revising it to a sparkling polish that only a mother lawyer could love) I read it over and realized it was good. More than good. It was the product of almost fifteen years of practice, learning and effort. All the moving parts worked properly, with not a word out of place.

It was right.

And that’s when the revelation hit me. Some people might see writing fiction as the opposite of a contract (though I ask you – who’s a better liar than an attorney?). As it happens, though, the principle is the same. When I can write a manuscript as well and as tightly as I write nonfiction prose, that manuscript will be ready for the world.

I took that thought to my fiction and great things started happening. I can’t explain exactly how the thought translated into words, but the principle is easy to explain: take what you’re doing and kick it up a notch, and then another, until you do it as well as the thing you do best in the world. Then – and only then – will you be ready to take that dream and make it true.

The good news is this works in most situations. Very few dreams require an inborn trait. If you dream of starting in the NBA but you’re only four foot three, you might not be able to increase the abilities that matter, but if your dream is achievable and hard work can make it happen, take a look at the way you’re working toward it. Then look at something you do well. Not just competently – find something you’re really good at. Ask yourself what distinguishes that skill, and try to apply it to your goal.

You might be surprised how well it transfers, or what it can teach you about the way to realize your dream.

I know I was.

Have you ever discovered a skill that helped you in unexpected ways? Comments are open – let me know!

2 thoughts on “Kicking it up a Notch

  • May 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Hi Susan. Great post. For me, it’s dancing. I always say that everything I know about writing, I learned from bellydancing. While it didn’t give me much insight on novel structure, these are the things it did teach me. . . .
    1. When you feel like stopping, do it one more time.
    2. Don’t show everything you know in one dance (novel).
    3. Dancing is more than the sum of the steps.
    4. There’s dancing for pros, and there’s dancing for the audience.
    5. Make it a gift, not something calculated to manipulate your audience.
    6. The art is always above me. i.e. I am forever a beginner.

    Glad things are going well for you. All the best.

    • May 11, 2011 at 10:55 am

      There’s a lot of novel writing in there! All very true points. Thanks for sharing them. Wish you were coming to the HNS conference in June too, but I guess the Apocalypse is more prospective than historical (for most of us anyway).

Comments are closed.