Writing Fiction: Raising the Bar

What is interesting about this is that the ‘lanky blonde girl’ did something more men than women are inclined to do – she took a risk. But then if you look again, she had nothing to lose, which is a different thing altogether. Whatever happened, she would come out a winner. To raise the bar in whatever we do may mean risking losing all that is important to us – credibility, status, respect, resources – and it has certainly happened in the past to innovators disparaged in their lifetimes and lauded after a glimpse through the lens of history. I’d like to think I’d have the courage (and the talent) to risk failing my MA but who does that? Would you?


Forgive the irony, but sometimes you’ve got to grab a cliché with both hands.  In Brain Pickings Weekly recently, they summarised the findings of Daniel Goleman in his book The Hidden Driver of Excellence.  In short, he concludes that, contrary to received wisdom, just practising a new skills for ten thousand hours isn’t enough to become a genius.  It needs to be a deliberate attempt to improve, often concentrating on just one aspect at a time.  (And to keep that open to feedback.)  As Stanley Donen, director of Singing in the Rain has said, ‘Talent is passion in a narrow field.’

I was set to thinking about all this because of a passage in Tash Aw’s book Five Star Billionaire.  One of the female characters is watching the Olympics on the TV.  As the Chinese Athletes are winning all the medals, a ‘lanky blonde girl,’ has failed her first two…

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2 thoughts on “Writing Fiction: Raising the Bar

  1. Nice piece. And the point about practice being more than putting in the hours seems important to me. Somewhere I’ve got a list of the features of good practice that I stole from a book, and top of that list is purposefulness. You’re got to have an aim, something you’re looking to develop, to get the most out of all those hours, or you’ll just be practising the same bad habits. You’ve got to push yourself that little bit further.

    1. Yes, I think you’re right – the reason being that I think practice works very well for technique but not for pushing boundaries. The most creative people I have ever met (which doesn’t include anyone terribly famous, it must be said) seemed never to have any explicit aim to improve anything – they were simply driven to do ‘something else’. Self evidently, technique played a big part but it was their use of technique and their distortion and extension of it that made the ‘something else’ original and jaw-dropping. I’m not saying creativity is some sort of gift that is only conferred on a select few because i don’t believe that is so. I think there’s enough evidence to suggest that creativity can be nurtured and the constraints that limit it, minimised so we can all experience it at some level. But it’s the doing, the immersion, not just practice, I think, that makes the ultimate difference. Letting your unconscious off the leash to make use of the tools you’ve honed, then honing some more to give it more to play with.

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