Friday, May 21, 2010

Challenging mediocrity

Change is in the air...and in my pen. I can feel it - and it makes me anxious. You know the phrase, "growing pains"? When you're a child, it refers to physical pain in your muscles, not from the actual growth of bones, which doesn't really hurt, but from the increased stress of running and jumping on a growing body. It ends when your body has reached maturity.

The key word is maturity. A child is growing into an adult, becoming a realized human being - brain and body growing together. The same is true of a career, especially as a writer. It's easy - and smart - to write what you know when you first start out. The words flow easily and you have no trouble moving from scene to scene, beginning to end. That's wise. You want to keep things easygoing when you start because too much research or stylistic choices can bog you down and keeping you from finishing and you need to finish.

However, once you know how to write a book - and you know you can finish a book and edit it and rewrite it over and over again - then you can mature. Only then can you really stretch your wings and reach for the stars or whatever naturalistic metaphor you choose to use.

But it can be painful. I know I can mature - I believe I have the ideas and the skills to fulfill them to their potential - but I also know it will be difficult. It scares me to let go of the writing I know without having the new writing completely under my control. But what is my alternative? Continue to write the same sort of thing over and over again? Lots of writers do that. I'm sure you can think of many bestselling novelists who do this. You know what you're getting when you get their books.

But without growth, without change, without maturity, why bother? I would rather read something that someone has taken a chance on, something that is outside their comfort zone, outside my comfort zone, and has failed miserably, than read the same thing again. Because even if that author crapped out the first time he stretched, the next time will be better. And the next better, and so on.

That's what I want for myself. I want to grow and mature and be a writer like the ones I have admired for all of my life. Being mediocre is the most egregious sin any writer can commit. Rise above it and take a risk.