A Guest Post by Art Holcomb
Writers and Athletes and Actors all share very similar career arcs.
Many start out but few make it to become practicing professionals.
No matter what their path, they all have to master the fundamentals.
Practitioners of all three of these professions are rightly considered artists – people striving toward a dream of what they could become. I recently thought about what these three groups all had in common and what their efforts could teach my students.
Below are eight fundamental career steps inspired by the lives of actors, athletes and writers. Most professional writers I know used these tools to get where they are today:
1. Lose the “I’m just a beginner” syndrome: Everyone who is now good at something once sucked at it – it’s just a fact of life. But there is beauty and inspiration in the efforts of the beginner. Some of my favorite work occurred when I was just starting out and didn’t know all the rules that sometimes hold a writer down.
There is a beauty in the beginning of all things – so ignore the labels and just write. That’s the one goal of the beginning (and really ALL) writers – “get it out of your head and on to the page”. Embrace each phase of your career and do your art like there’s nobody watching.
2. Don’t wait for perfect: Each type of artist has a skill arc. That’s natural, too. Many of us have written endless drafts trying to find the perfect phrase or description that will forge that all-important Writer-Reader Connection.
The secret here is to realize that the audience wants your best completed effort, with the emphasis on COMPLETED. They can’t buy it and read it until it done and out there. Remember: “Perfect is the enemy of done” in all things.
3. Talk to yourself — out loud: I have known actors and athletes in their private moments and we share one habit – they tend to visualize and talk through their efforts to themselves. For writers, the key is learning to read our works out loud. The beauty of language exists as much in its sound as in its imagery.
Readers tend to abandon any piece of writing that sounds like writing – and that’s anything that doesn’t sound natural. Reading your work aloud can do that for you too. You will edit better and make a stronger connection to your audience once you hear the words alive and out in the world.
4. Be free to move words, sentences, paragraphs around the page like pieces of a puzzle. As writers, we are often too precious with our words. We think that the way they come out of us is the way they were meant to be heard. But part of our talent – the talent of ANY artist, really – lies in the way our creations are organized.
Play with your work. Stir it, fold it, flip it, rip it – do whatever works for you. You’ll be surprised what happens when you treat your words like clay rather than marble.
5. Make your point in a few words: Novels seem to get longer and longer all the time and I think that’s due in part to over-explaining, endlessly describing and needless illustrating, which all stems from the writer’s insecurity about his/her own ability to communicate.
I have spent most of my career working in the short forms (poetry, short stories, plays and screenplays) and it has taught me to give the reader the tools they need to paint THEIR OWN mental picture of your story using THEIR imagination – instead of you battling to get them to see exactly what you see exactly the way you see it.
Let the audience do some of the heavy lifting and, I guarantee, they’ll thank you for it by eagerly looking for your next work.
6. The Internet is not your friend: Like all tools, the internet is either a blessing or a curse depending on how you use it. For me, it can be a monstrous time suck and I purposely avoid my internet during my writing sessions, except when I am doing research. I also only check my email twice a day. Only twice, and NEVER during writing hours. If you can curb this monster, you’ll be amazed at what you can get done.
Artists tend to eliminate anything that steals time and energy from their passion. You should too.
7. Don’t get stalled by thinking that you have to start at the beginning. The key to getting your pages done is to write it down as it comes to you and not to force yourself to write the beginning first. The ability to set-up and pay-off plot points often depends on writing sections of your story out of order.
Write whatever makes sense to you at the time. You can rearrange it to your heart’s content later. Remember: it’s your work. Own the process.
8. Set deadlines for yourself: This may be the most important tool of all. In my world, nothing ever gets accomplished without a deadline. It puts pressure on me to produce and insures that I get a number of things written instead of just one “masterpiece”. I have learned to write no more than three (3) drafts of any work. After three, it goes out regardless.
Without deadlines, you could be like a friend of mine who has been writing the same novel for more than twenty years. Work to understand your talent and your process. Set a deadline to get the thing out and MEET IT, and then move on to the next work. This is how you create a body or work – and a career.
Art Holcomb is a writer and instructor. His most recent play is entitled THE PERFECT BRACKET and is a contributing editor to CREATIVE SCREENWRITING Magazine.