Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Commitment to Excellence

By Marilyn Brant

"Desire is the key to motivation, but it's determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal -- a commitment to excellence -- that will enable you to attain the success you seek." ~Mario Andretti
road blur
Andretti said a mouthful of keywords here: Desire. Motivation. Determination. Commitment. Goal. Excellence. Success.

He may have devoted his life to being a champion race-car driver, but he knew something a lot of us writers also understand. He knew all about a commitment to excellence.
Some years back, I was talking with my brother-in-law about martial arts. He has a black belt in jujitsu and has competed many times, including once in Taiwan. His day job was as the deputy chief of police in a northern Chicago suburb -- and he answered a million cop/detective/crime questions for me when I wrote The Road to You -- but jujitsu has been his longtime hobby. (One that also proved rather useful in his line of work!) He mentioned to me that, as much as he was interested in all of the martial arts, he found it best to focus on attaining excellence in just one of them, so he'd know what it was like to be really good at that one sport. That it would be easier for him to learn another one later, once he'd reached a high level of achievement in jujitsu first.
   I don't believe he meant that judo or karate or any other martial art would be that much easier to learn once a person has learned another. Rather, I think it's because, once we know what constitutes excellence in ANY ONE area, we can fully understand what it should look and feel like in another. Knowing what it really means to EXCEL in one subject or at one particular skill keeps me from being fooled (or, more likely, fooling myself) into thinking a mediocre performance is an excellent one. Because it's not.
I've seen the same thing with those who study foreign languages or musical instruments. Someone who strives and attains excellence with French, for instance, or with the flute knows the time, work, effort, practice, commitment, etc. it takes to become a master. Someone who's a world champion chess player isn't likely to think he'd make a stellar tennis player, unless he'd trained as hard for the tennis as he did for the chess. And I can assure you all, much as I love to paint landscapes and to play pop/rock songs on the piano, I will not be hosting an art exhibit or a concert anytime soon. I may still have a lot to learn about writing, but I know enough to recognize when an essay or a novel is in essentially publishable condition...and, likewise, this hard-earned knowledge helps me to recognize (with sadness but certainty, LOL) that my artwork and my piano playing are NOT at a comparably high performance level.
That said, no one reaches excellence in any arena if he or she isn't willing to take risks and write, paint, sing, or whatever at an absolutely dreadful level first. No one just jumps into mastery with one or two easy leaps. Some people may be fortunate in learning how to advance more quickly, while some of us (*raises hand*) need years or even decades to acquire the same skills. But I think as creative people we always have to push ourselves, even once we think we kinda know what we're doing. We still need to take risks. To try new, more complicated, more emotionally dangerous things on the page, so that we're not only improving our own skill level, but we're raising the bar of excellence collectively across all creative fields.
Or, to quote Mario again: "If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough."
Yeah. That applies to writers, too.
So, here's to a year of striving for excellence for all of us! What projects are you working on right now? Anything that's a little out of your comfort zone?
___
Marilyn Brant is a USA Today bestselling author and was named the 2013 Author of the Year by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English...but she still makes a big mess when trying to paint with oils. And don't ask her to play Mozart with any accuracy. Her most recent novel, The Road to You, is a coming-of-age romantic mystery, and it's on super sale for just $0.99 for a few more days (reg. price $3.99) at Kindle, Nook and iBooks. It's a story about finding truth -- and love -- along the highway of life, and it's a book club pick for February on The Reading Frenzy. Anyone who'd like to join us is welcome :wink: .

10 comments:

  1. "To try new, more complicated, more emotionally dangerous things on the page," love that, Marilyn. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks so much, Sam!! Glad you liked it ;).

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  2. Marilyn,
    I LOVE this post. I mean like crazy sexy undeniable love this post. You are so eloquent. You have this grand knack for expressing thoughts that strike a deep chord within me. Love. Love. Love.
    Thank you for this.
    xoMaggie

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    1. LOL, Maggie!! *Hug!*
      Thank you, my friend! I'm so pleased it resonated with you...it's a topic I've thought about way too often -- for sure every time I try to play the piano! XOX

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    1. Thrilled you liked it, Kwana!!
      Thanks for taking time to read and share it ;).

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  4. Marilyn Great Post! I have to hand it to all of my author friends who take risks with every new release and every new idea. Even though I'm not creative I too hope that I keep striving to excel at whatever I try.
    Can't wait for the February Book club ;)

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    1. Deb,
      Thank you!! And, from where I sit, you not only strive to excel, you succeed beautifully! You're one of the best reviewers and book-club hosts I've ever had the pleasure to know. Truly, I *always* love being part of your online book clubs because you create such a warm and wonderful atmosphere for readers and authors alike... Already excited about February! xoxo

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  5. Love this, Marilyn!! Working on a bunch of new things, including a few that totally scare me....

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    1. Oh, Brenda, that's awesome! I have such a love/hate relationship with that feeling, LOL, but I think it brings about really good things... The Road to You was like that for me -- probably why it took me 3 years to write it (I kept stopping every time I got scared ;), but I look forward to reading whatever comes next for you. I have no doubt it'll be wonderful!

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