“One important key to success is self-confidence. And one key to self-confidence is preparation.” Arthur Ashe
“Constant training creates an unconscious competence. We build muscle memory that allows us to operate at our highest level. You might have heard this referred to as ‘being in the zone,’ ‘in the moment,’ or ‘mushin’…which means ‘no mind.’ We are at our best when we are acting from our pure self.” Barry Farber*
A best-selling author of 12 books, Barry Farber is also a motivational coach and martial arts expert. Preparation is a major theme of his. The more you consciously prepare and master the basics, he notes, the more easily you can access them whenever you need them. This concept applies to any discipline we want to master, including writing.
Consider the art of creating dialogue. I once read two different Agatha Christie novels back to back. The first one was written toward the end of her career, after she’d written dozens of mysteries; the second one was an early effort — and it showed. The dialogue in her later book was witty, incisive and pointed. It revealed both the character of the players and bits of plot seamlessly. In contrast, the dialogue in her earlier book was rambling and even clumsy. It moved the story along, but slowly.
The difference was striking. One book was the work of an amateur just beginning to develop her craft and the other was the work of a master who knew intuitively the effect she wanted to create and how to attain it. That’s the fruit of practice.
Just recently, I took a key exchange in my children’s novel and rewrote it three or four times. I cut and moved bits, so the dialogue pushed my main character to make a key
decision. Then I sharpened the language, so it was crisper. Each time I worked this section over, better ideas bubbled up. I’m a long way from writing the kind of intuitive, “pure self” dialogue that makes Agatha Christie a master, but I know practicing this skill will move
me in this direction.
What about you? Is there a craft challenge you’re facing? Why not begin by reading the work of an author who’s mastered the skill you’re struggling with. Analyze exactly how the author created a sense of place or penned dialogue that sparkles and drives a story forward. Then pick a section of your own short story or novel that’s less-than scintillating and work it over until you get the effect you want. Keep doing this over time and soon your “pure self” will take over. Write on!
* “Diamond Mind” column, Barry Farber, Suburban Essex magazine, May 2016