I’m inching ever closer to earning my black belt in Taekwondo. My son is right behind me. One of the things that has helped us is a lesson our studio taught us about the “4 Areas of Mental Focus” which help keep a student moving forward mentally, so that s/he can progress physically. I couldn’t help noticing they’d help one progress in writing, too.
#1 “Rate Yourself 1 to 10″.
The idea is to examine your current level of skill on something and determine whether it’s just about as awful as it could be (1), could never be improved upon (10), or likely somewhere in the middle. This is the part where you go ahead and be a little hard on yourself. So I could ask myself questions like–How well am I organizing my thoughts? How well am I using literary devices? How real are my characters?
#2 “Am I Getting Better?”
Just as it says, it’s a progress check. This is the part where you cut yourself some slack. Maybe I think I’m only a 4 or 5 on a certain skill. But where was I last week? Last month? Last year? Was I a 2? Well then, hey! Progress made. Take the victories where they come. It’s important.
#3 “Healthy Competition”.
The idea there is to look at the kid who is best in class and try to be as good or better than he or she is. (This is as opposed to looking at the worst student in class and thinking, “Nanner nanner nah, I’m way better than that!”) Most likely you’re not in a class right now, so look around at your writing peers. But now…look at the skill, the style, the fluidity of language, etc. Don’t look at the number of followers or comments they collect. Don’t look at their sales figures. You don’t have complete control over that bit. Only your actual craft. What can you do to get yourself up to the top levels of competency? What can you learn from them?
#4 “Make it Real”.
This has to do with hitting and kicking as if it were really a self-defense or a competitive sparring situation instead of just going through the motions generally. For a writer, this is where, even if you know you have only six subscribers to your blog (and three of them are family), you write as though you have an audience of 60K. If you have gotten a low-circulation published work out there, you write as though the next one is going to be at the top of the NY Times Best Seller List for 26 consecutive weeks. (Remember, most overnight sensations take about 10 years of hard work.)
I look back at where I was about three years ago in Taekwondo and it makes me chuckle. Though I was doing just fine for the level’s expectations at the time, I’ve come a lot further and realize how much more I need to go. It’s a journey, not a destination. Keep the focus on your craft and it will get better!