When I was six or seven, I had an imaginary husband. His name was Christopher Afris. Why Christopher Afris? I have no idea. He was a good-looking man in my childish estimation—tall, a bit thin, red hair cut squarish, and freckles. I found him in the Sears catalogue. He lived upstairs in the attic. Our house had no attic, but what else could there be above the ceiling? Every day I’d tell my sister what he was doing up there.
I doubt that makes me unique. Many kids have imaginary friends (I think). But this wasn’t one imaginary friend/husband. Christopher had a family—a brother, a daughter (my doll, of course). And over the years as I grew up, these people evolved and turned into other people, who’s lives turned into stories. By age eleven or twelve these stories were becoming complex and branching out into multiple stories, even multiple worlds.
And so what? Aren’t there many people who have that kind of commotion in their head?
I was twelve or thirteen when my cousin, my sister and I decided to write a ‘book”. It was a romance, naturally, and set in medieval times. We didn’t really plan it beforehand. We just let it go where it pleased. So, every week we’d hand off the green binder and Fiona, Phillipe, Rosamund and Pierfrancesco would have new adventures. I’d be ashamed of it now (though I’ve borrowed Pierfrancesco, the wily Spaniard, as a character for other stories), but it was a launching pad for me. I realized I could write my stories down in book form, and it was fun.
But, I quickly found out that writing a story was HARD! In my mind the stories existed in a lush world. The characters had rich, intense emotion and their lives were full of action. But on paper… well how could I express those things? The words wouldn’t arrange themselves. The dialogue was weird and wooden. My books were a series of false starts, or if they made it into a first draft, abandonments.
And, from my experience, that is where most aspiring writers stop. Because writing is hard work.
Jeff Olson says, “By and large, people are looking [for success] in the wrong places. They are looking for a breakthrough, looking for that amazing ‘quantum leap’—the philosophy of the craps table and roulette wheel. I don’t believe they’ll ever find it. I’ve had colossal failures, and I’ve had remarkable successes, and my experience is, neither one happens in quantum leaps. They happen through the slight edge”.
What is the slight edge? It is the concept that small choices and actions, over time, lead to big results. Will they lead to good results? That depends.
My physique is a fantastic example. It’s not as if I don’t eat fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean meats, and so forth. But I love to eat. Say I overeat twice a week (and that’s conservative), how much weight does that translate to in a year? If you’ve seen me, you have a good approximation. It’s not a big deal—an extra whatever a couple times a week. But it adds up.
And in the same way, writing practice adds up.
Creative writing courses in high school were the true foundation of my writing. Here I learned the forms of writing—descriptive, narrative, expository, persuasive. I learned to love crafting a compelling argument. I learned the mechanics of dialogue. I learned the rudiments of research and planning.
In my late teens I finished a second draft of a novel, then abandoned it. In my early adulthood I wrote another novel and abandoned it. By this point my writing, though decidedly immature, was MUCH better. The worlds in my head were translating onto paper.
About the time I hit college I realized this practice was paying off. I skated through paper writing—not that I didn’t work hard, because I did—but the words flowed, were organized, and made sense.
And, in college I realized what a passion I had for writing, and thus I must write. I must use this passion God has given. I began to look for ways of being more disciplined. An acquaintance referred me to the Inksters, a group of Christian writers. Association with these writers has rapidly expanded my mind. They point out my weaknesses and how to fix them. They proofread for me. With them I learn more about the social and marketing aspect of writing. I also devoured books on the subject. I poured through well-written novels, recommended by successful authors. Association with these excellent writers, in person and on paper, has set off a sharp upswing in my growth.
I’m not a successful author yet—not by my definition. But now the words are no longer trapped inside my head. Work, education and practice have built up. I can sit down, put pen to page, and say what I mean… at least for the most part, sometimes… I’ve finished one novel, started the next, published an article, started a blog. I am still in the shallowest part of the success curve, but the curve is going up, not down.
Should I ever cease to write, cease to learn, then the curve will flatten and turn down. There is no escaping the slight edge. Either the edge is for you, or it is against you. If God has given you the ability to sing, you sure as heck better sing and study how to do it better. If not, you’ll get worse. Muscles grow weak and cannot support the breath. Throats grow hoarse. Musical ears go deaf. If God has given you the ability to teach, then for the love of Pete, teach! Because gift or not, you’re going to suck at first. And if you don’t like what your finances are like, you’d better examine your habits and find what slight edge is against you. Because it’s either for you, or its against you. But it the slight edge is for you, you will succeed.
For further reading, see The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.