Never Settle

In the seventh grade I had a Geography teacher who everyone was afraid of. I was told that he was strict and that the class would be especially difficult because he was teaching it. Naturally, on my first day of school, I was nervous.

My teacher had high expectations for a group of twelve year olds, it’s true, but they weren’t impossible to meet. You see, he told us he lived by a Japanese motto that said there is no such thing as perfection because whatever you do can always be better. It may sound harsh, but when implemented into his grading system it meant if he thought you deserved it, you could earn more than 100%.

You’d think that a perfectionist myself would hate a system in which you could never reach perfection, but I thrived off of it. It became a competition—what was the highest grade I could get? I spent hours on a project that many of my classmates spent minutes on. I worked hard and it paid off—there was more than one occasion when I received marks of 125% or more.  

Nostalgia aside, I think my Geography teacher was onto something. You see, he didn’t mean that our work would never be good enough for high marks, he meant quite the opposite—that we should never settle for just “good enough.” That we can always improve and we should never stop reaching for better.

You can apply this to almost anything, but as this is a writing blog, I’m going to apply to Butterbeer cupcakes. You can’t get better than that.

Kidding! Though those cupcakes look pretty delicious, I must say.

Err, anyway. Writing. Right.

Now before you think I’m contradicting what I said before about the Never-Ending Editing Syndrome (and I’m totally not), allow me to explain myself. Although editing is indeed the time that you improve your writing in whatever WIP you’re working on, I’m not talking about just one project.

When I say never settle for “good enough,” I don’t just mean a WIP (although that’s certainly part of it), I mean your writing as a whole.

I don’t care if you’re a NYT Bestselling author with six-figure advances. There is always room for improvement. Always. Your craft isn’t something you should ever allow to plateau—strive to improve every day, read books about writing, critique others work, have people critique your work, look for ways to pull your writing apart and make it better.

Every day is a day that you can get better at what you do. Never settle for enough talent, enough practice, enough anything.

You can always get better.

I read writing books all the time. And re-read them with highlighters. And re-read them again with different highlighters. What are your favorite books about the craft?  

6 comments:

Jen said...

I actually have yet to read a book about writing (although I have a few on my shelf just waiting for me) but I think there is bountiful resources in other writers and the more opinions you get the better your writing becomes. Though I agree even that can be taken a step too far, yet, there is always room for improvement :)

SP Sipal said...

I love this post, Ava! I too had a professor that challenged me to perform at my highest. He was the professor no one else wanted to have because of his tough reputation. But he was extremely fair and gave students every opportunity to revise and seek his opinion. I learned so much from him about doing the hard work to achieved the more valuable results.

And that works so much with writing. When the reader has thousands of books to choose from, yours must truly exceed expectations. And that doesn't come from settling for "good enough."

My favorite books on the craft are actually studying the works of the authors who have succeeded beyond good enough, like JK Rowling. :-)

Ava Jae said...

I did that thing again where I asked a question and didn't answer it. Hmm.

My favorite books on craft are Plot & Structure and Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, Characters, Emotion and Viewpoints by Nancy Kress among others. I go through them and highlight them repeatedly. In different colors. :)

I'm so glad you guys enjoyed this post! Sometimes being nostalgic is good fodder for blog posts.

Thanks for commenting!

tammara said...

This is SO true, and so hard to follow when you think to yourself if I go over this thing one more time I'm going to throw something. Like a huge tantrum. Or this laptop. This is why deadlines are good for perfectionists, I think -- one one hand, you have to finish by them... on the other, you have to let go by them! Your teacher was brilliant, and I bet you had due dates for all of those assignments! You had to make it as good as possible by the time it was due and then let it go. ;)

Ava Jae said...

I really have to start making "letting go" deadlines, I think that's a really great point. Didn't really think much about that before.

My geography teacher was fantastic (after all, I'm still living by that motto today) and I did absolutely have many deadlines. Sometimes I thought they were unreasonable, but in the end he always knew how much time was necessary for quality work.

Shakespeare said...

So smart. Yes, yes, there is always room for improvement. And if we start thinking we're perfect (or our manuscript is), we've stopped growing.

So glad I found this blog! Definitely adding you to my blog roll. Loved the Harry Potter literal thing, too!

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