My sifu (master) said something interesting the other day at Kung Fu. He said it’s okay to pick favorite techniques and work them for awhile. He found that when he learned he would use certain techniques until he got tired of them or his sparring partners had figured them out, then he’d move onto new techniques.
I didn’t think much more about this except how it applied to Kung Fu. That is until the other day. One of my stress-coping activities is playing Daily Sudoku on my phone. I really don’t know why I get so much enjoyment out of Sudoku, because I’m not really a math geek by any stretch. But I play—a lot.
One of the nice features of Daily Sudoku is you can learn advanced techniques to solve more difficult puzzles. Some of these puzzles you must know these techniques for, because process of basic elimination will only take you so far.
I tried and tried and tried to learn these techniques, but I just didn’t get it. It was super frustrating. So sometimes I would just hint my way through tough puzzles, hoping somehow it would click. But it always bothered me that I couldn’t understand it on my own. I especially hated the “fish” techniques (and still do).
Then one day I realized there were a few techniques I could understand and apply: the unique and hidden unique rectangles, x-wing and finned x-wings and w-wings. This may sound like Star Wars gobbledygook to some of you, but man do I love these techniques!
That’s when things clicked. What my sifu was saying, what Sudoku was telling me—I finally learned an important life lesson. Mastering things means doesn’t mean you master it all at once.
I picked the few techniques I understood well, and while I don’t always solve every difficult puzzle without hints necessarily, I do solve a significant portion more of them than I did before. I’m using the techniques I understand to become more proficient at something, and, as my sifu said, when I get bored of those, I move onto something new.
This can apply to so many facets of life, but let’s bring it back to writing since most of us here are writers. You may not be the best at dialogue or world building or character development or editing, etc. But you do not under any circumstances take that to mean your editor will fix it in the future. We the readers demand your very best and we demand you constantly strive to become the very best.
There are lots of things to master in writing. Whether arcs, description, more beautiful prose—whatever it is, pick a few and roll with them. Focus on making them the best they can be. Perhaps you even choose a certain “technique” and go through your story when you’re editing focused solely on that.
I think sometimes we feel like our whole story needs to be mastered by draft three, and that’s just not going to happen, not if we’re serious about writing some good story. But while we’re mastering our craft and the particular story, we pick a few things to work on, strengthen those things and when we feel like we have a pretty decent handle on it, we move onto something else.
I’ve made a mental note of those things in writing I tend to be less good at so I know when I’m revising to look for weaknesses in those things. I challenge you to know your strengths and your weaknesses. Play to your strengths and use them well. But be aware of your weaknesses when it comes time to revise.
If we try for full perfection all the time, we’ll end up frustrated and disappointed. But if we focus on our strengths and use what we can do and comprehend to get us through, we get to that point where we’ve solved a “fiendish” puzzle all on our own and we can do the happy dance all around the room.
Do you try and master too many things all at once? Are you an impatient writer, or were you? What advice would you add? Have you found this principle to be true in other areas of your life?