I once wrote a college paper on schizophrenia called Dance The Edge of Sanity. The paper got an A, but the professor tried to edit the title to Dancing The Edge of Sanity. I guess she didn't appreciate my artistic integrity. Nor was she a fan of the Indigo Girls.
I've been thinking recently about skill levels. Those attained in both writing and in dancing. I'm a West Coast Swing dancer. I've been at it for about two and a half years. I have no desire to earn a living at it, but I do know a number of pros who make their living teaching the dance and attending events. They have a passion for WCS that I will never share.
They eat, live and breathe it. All of their friends come from the community. They are constantly sought after partners whenever they hit the dance floor. I, however, just like to dance. I've learned enough to enjoy myself, but I still feel like a beginner out there. Mostly because I compare myself to those pros. I compare myself to those who spend a lot of money on lessons, or have been practicing for over a decade, or are willing to put in the hours to make sure they become a "success" at this dance (whatever success means to them.)
External measurements of dance skill (aka judging) simply aren't that important to me. I need it as a creative outlet. But I don't much care if I'm never foot-perfect or achieve the label "Champion." I do it because it feels so damned good to groove to the beat. It's something I do for myself, and recently I've gotten feedback from my dance partners that my joy in dancing brings them joy too.
I tell them I'm a beginner because I still feel like one. But they tell me, "No. You're not." I'm comparing myself to the pros. They're comparing me to true beginners.
It feels the same with my writing now. I've attended a number of writer-focused events recently. And despite being unpublished (and unsubmitted, frankly) I've realized, I'm no longer a true beginner. Unlike my dancing, I have put in the time in the past year to LEARN the craft of writing. I have read, and read, and read.
I've read how successful authors do it. I've read what sought-after agents expect. I've read about editors' professional expectations, and most importantly, I've read books. Books that show me how it's done. Through all of that I have learned my craft, yet I know I still have a lot to learn. But, when faced with the questions and expectations of a true beginner I wonder "how the hell can you not know that?" Forgetting there was a time when I was just as clueless.
Now, when I stand before a master of the craft, I am humbled. I think I'll never be that skilled, that imaginative, that subtle. And you know what? Just like my dancing, I may never be, because just like my dancing, I don't PRACTICE my writing enough. I know the basics. Now I have to do them. With my dancing, I am perfectly satisfied to sit back and let others enjoy the glory. I have no agenda, and therefore don't feel the least bit compelled to work towards ephemeral "success." With my writing, I'm going to be published, dammit. That is my success line, that is the hurdle I will sail over. I am going to grab that glory for myself.
A speaker I heard this past weekend said that of the 100 people who set out to write a book, only 10 will succeed in finishing it. And of the 100 people who succeed in finishing a book, only 10 will follow the path to finding an agent or editor and seeking publication. Of that number, guess how many succeed? Your guess is as good as mine--I stopped listening and patted myself on the back for being in the 10% who actually finished their novel. The point is, success can only be achieved by persistence, by practice, by sitting down and DOING IT.
They say that to want to make a living as an author you have to be insane. Well guess who's dancing the edge of sanity?
With that written. I'm going out dancing.
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