“When nothing much is happening, that’s exactly when you need to work the hardest.” This advice from a coach of mine sprang to mind when I first picked up a fabulous book by George Leonard called Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment. The book is relatively short and an easy read, but the lessons it delivers are long on value. For us as writers, they can prove priceless.
Leonard calls mastery, “the mysterious process during which what is at first difficult becomes progressively easier and more pleasurable through practice.” He then goes on to describe “the mastery curve” — a series of relatively short bursts of progress interspersed with long plateau periods where you seem to be making little or no progress. In order to take the master’s journey, Leonard contends, you have to keep practicing and pushing to sharpen your skills: “But while doing so — and this is the inexorable fact of the journey — you also have to be willing to spend most of your time on a plateau, to keep practicing even when you seem to be getting nowhere.”
Somehow, Leonard’s observation seems to go hand-in-glove with the writing life. I’ve certainly found that my writing seems to unfold in spurts that are punctuated by flat periods where I just have to soldier on. How about you?
Choosing the path to mastery isn’t easy, especially when everything around us celebrates instant success and quick fixes. And yet, the rewards that come from steadily striving to sharpen our skills can be immensely satisfying. In his book, Leonard pinpoints tools that can make the journey easier. But in a nutshell, he says, you have to learn to love the plateau: “How do you best move toward mastery? To put it simply, you practice diligently, but you practice primarily for the sake of the practice itself. Rather than being frustrated while on the plateau, you learn to appreciate it and enjoy it just as much as you do the upward surges.”
Do yourself a favor and read this book!