Monday, October 29, 2012
A Writer's Creed: Good, Better, Best
As a teacher, I often talk about the idea of gradual progression. That is, improving your skill one small, measured step at a time. I talk at length about taking your starting point, your baseline, and building a level (or a layer) to that baseline. But, I tell them, the important part is to realize each layer comes over time. It doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, I start every school year by talking about your name and how everything you do attaches your name to the end result. I even take it a step further and explain that your name is a reflection of your parents and loved ones, and that just “good enough” isn’t good enough for those who’ve dedicated their lives to you. My last ditch effort in explaining the concept of constantly striving to do your best and improve comes in a story about me baking a cake. I like to start off by admitting I am no Cake Boss (I do an imitation of Buddy), and tell them the truth: I am a decent cook. I get it done, I tell them. However, I say, when I am baking a cake, even though I am not Buddy and have no aspirations to be the Cake Boss, you can be darn sure I’m going to bake the best darn cake I can! The reason: I – AM – BAKING – A –CAKE! So why not make it the best I can. That’s why people like the actual Cake Boss and any other person at the top of their profession got there: by busting their tail to get better, a little at a time.
Then, last year, I had a conversation with this student who writes well, but doesn’t seem compelled to advance her writing. I was discussing the idea of adding depth to her arguments and layering her elaboration with details. She turned to me, straight-faced, and said, “Mr. Winchell, I know how to write, and I have never received anything under an 80 on any writing assignment. Ever! So why do I need to advance my writing?”
My response was simple. “Because you shouldn’t rest with what you are. You should want to get better with each new word written. If for no other reason: your name is attached to the writing on the page, and in turn, your writing is a reflection of you.” She rolled her eyes, of course, and mumbled something about having no desire to do anything in her “career” that involved writing. I could have debated this with the fact that ALL careers involve writing of some kind, but the conversation was over.
This isn’t uncommon for student writers who are “good enough” to rest with that and simply put out the same effort over and over. It’s the unfortunate state of things, and something that makes my skin crawl. Conversations like the one I had with that “good enough” student are what make me question not only the motivation of the youth of America, but make me question what I am doing in education in the first place. A feeling of wasted efforts, you might say. Then I turn around and see the few kids who get into everything, and are just awesome kids in general, and I’m reminded why I’m teaching.
So, the question I put to you is just that simple: Are you looking to just bake the darn cake, or are you looking to bake the best darn cake you can? More directly geared toward authors: Are you looking to grow as a writer, or do you think you’ve already reached your max potential? And, what steps do you take to keep that gradual progression going?