Monday Motivation: Total dedication to the craft

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog

This is not a puff-piece. It’s rather a salute to the sort of commitment to the craft of writing that we could all learn from.

It’s inspired by one of our students, half-way through our online creative writing course. The course was the prize she won by submitting the best entry to one of our regular writing challenges, so we know that she is already an accomplished writer with a flair both for words and for drama.

Does that mean that she’s happy to rest on her laurels and bask in our adulation? Well, judge for yourself…

I’d like to quote what Penny van Zyl says here, and then look in more detail what her commitment really means.

“… I’m loving the course so far. Your feedback has been valuable and so has the practice of just writing often. Sticking to the word limit is a lesson in itself and for me, paring down my writing to the very essence of what I want to say has been exciting. The more I write and the more difficult it is to chop the fluff, the better at it I’m getting and the less fluff there is… I haven’t won many prizes in my life, but this is far and away the best one.”

For me, what sticks out most here is Penny’s absolute determination to improve her writing, the quality of which is already, as I pointed out, nothing to be sneezed at.

I suppose that all I’m saying is what Malcolm Gladwell, the pop psych writer, avers: that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field.

But I’d qualify that hypothesis. I’d say that “deliberate practice” is not enough to achieve that kind of status. You need a good dash of natural talent, plus, possibly, an early childhood environment in which striving for excellence was a much admired virtue, and in which you were surrounded by books or, at least, stories. And probably a little luck. We always need a little luck.

But nevertheless, I do believe that passionate commitment to a programme of improvement will succeed, every time, in improving your writing, in sharpening your focus on the elements of your writing that need work, and in identifying story opportunities that might have escaped the less exercised eye.

Mentors or teachers – and I wear both these hats from time to time – are not absolutely necessary. You can cleave your own path to excellence, there’s no doubt about that.

You could devise your own exercises, impose your own word limits, judge your own success. You could (and should) read widely and deliberately, seeking out the tricks that writers use to achieve their effects.

You could read books on writing. There are hundreds available. They range from broad introductions to the writer’s craft to highly specialised examinations of subjects as varied as: how to write subtext, how to sharpen suspense, how to write dialogue.

It’s up to you. All you need to do is, in Penny’s words, “write often”, slice down to the essence of what it is you wish to communicate, and cut out what she calls “the fluff”.

Do this consistently and with dedication and your writing will improve beyond recognition. And because your mastery of the craft is steadily increasing, you’ll enjoy it so much that you’ll never see cause to stop.

Happy writing,


Read Jo-Annes latest blog: ‘Writing Secrets: The power of the specific

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