On Mastery

By Kerry Schafer

Finish the damn book.

I know you’ve heard this before. You’ve heard it from writers far more well known than I am, people like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. There’s even a Finish the Damn Book Contest out there you can enter, if you need that kind of encouragement.

Why?

Because every book you finish teaches you something new about writing. Every story you complete improves your craft, brings you to a higher level of skill, makes you a better writer. The places that make you want to walk away to a new and still shiny idea are the places where you need to up your game and learn something new.

If you give up in the middle, if you abandon your characters and story when the going gets messy in the soggy middle, you never learn how to fix that middle. You’ll never learn how to go back and tweak the beginning to make the middle work. Or rewrite the end so you can fix the beginning.

When you quit, you never really give yourself a chance to become the best writer you can be.

This morning I chanced upon an article about the concept of Mastery that a friend posted on Facebook. It’s written by Maria Popova and is called Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Difference Between Success and Mastery (It’s about a book called The Rise, by Sarah Lewis, which is likely also well worth reading.) Popova talks at length about the gift of failure and the difference between mastery and success. One of the things that really stuck with me was a photo of the Women’s Archery team at Columbia University in about 1920.

These women spent “…countless hours practicing a sport that requires equal parts impeccable precision of one’s aim and a level of comfort with the uncontrollable — all the environmental interferences, everything that could happen between the time the arrow leaves the bow and the time it lands on the target, having followed its inevitably curved line.”

Think about that in the context of the writer’s life. We spend countless hours writing the books – shaping, polishing, perfecting. But after the books leave our hands there are so many interferences beyond our control. Agents, editors, the vagaries of the publishing business, current trends in readers and the market.

I’d like to be Robin Hood, with a level of mastery so magical and mythical that every book I ever writes hits the bulls eye.

But I’m not. And chances are good that neither are you.

So what do we do? We keep writing books. We keep practicing. We keep pursuing mastery of our craft because that is something over which we do have control.

And we never quit.

Which brings me to this, from the unquenchable Chuck Wendig:

“I am a writer, and I will finish the shit that I started.

I will not whine. I will not blubber. I will not make mewling whimpering cryface pissypants boo-hoo noises. I will not sing lamentations to my weakness.

My confidence is hard and unyielding. Like a kidney stone lodged in the ureter of a stegosaurus.

These are my adult pants. The diapers have burned away in the fires of my phoenix-esque rising…”

Read the rest, here. Then put it on your desktop. Print it off and paste it to your wall. Chant it in front of the mirror.

And then go finish your book. And write another one.

~~~~~

Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2012 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on February 14, 2013. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books.

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About Kerry Schafer

Kerry Schafer is licensed both as a Mental Health Professional and an RN, and spends most of her daylight hours helping people--usually even with a smile. In books, she gets to blow stuff up, preferably with something more interesting than a bomb. Dragons are good; exploding giant slime toads are even better. She has published two novels with Ace Books: Between and Wakeworld. She is also the author of The Dream Wars novellas. Kerry and her Viking live in Colville, Washington, in a little house surrounded by rocks, trees, and gangs of deer and wild turkeys.

4 thoughts on “On Mastery

  1. Julie Luek

    BOOYAH! I so needed this very article this morning. I have an idea but, boy, getting it from my head to computer feels overwhelming. I know I need to just write it — get the crap out there so I can see what it is I’m trying to work with, but the oh the mess. Thank you for this kick I so needed.

    Reply
    1. W. J. Howard

      Me too, Julie. Loved the statement, “I’d like to be Robin Hood, with a level of mastery so magical and mythical that every book I ever writes hits the bulls eye.”! I not only try to hit the bulls eye but to split the previous arrow, and that is just too much pressure to put on oneself.

      Oh, and LUV Chuck! I bought all his books on writing and when I need a stern talking to, I open one up and let him scold me for a half hour or so. ;-)

      Reply
      1. Kerry Schafer

        About to kick my own ass and get some after work writing done. I swear the hardest part is just making yourself do the work. Even if you love it. :)

        Reply
  2. Patricia Stoltey

    I needed this post too. I have 30,000 words down and can’t seem to get back to it, even though I’m sold on the story idea and the characters.

    Reply

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