What is the best you can be?
The answer to that question depends on what you are attempting to do. Each of us has a repertoire of tasks and work that has been practiced and honed to a fine quality.
That level of performance qualifies as “excellence.” Any work or performance that is your best, deserves that label.
How does a person reach the standard of excellence?
Is it your usual choice to be and do your best?
Download a PDF of this post:
Is Excellence a Choice [/stextbox]
Everyone starts off, in every human endeavor, as an amateur. Amateur work is identifiable as a beginner’s effort by those who have worked to advance to a higher level of performance. And that’s the path to achieving excellence.
Work to achieve a higher level of performance. Practice, study, compare your effort with the work of a professional.
But, not for the purpose of discouragement. Rather, for the purpose of discovery. What additional, beyond what you have achieved, has the professional discovered how to do? And, perhaps more importantly, what is the next step in achievement that you must do in order to advance toward the level of professional?
My last article revealed the “Puzzle Strategy” for solving problems. It’s a Puzzle listed 7 Steps to take in mastering a problem.
This strategy can be applied to the task of achieving excellence in many of life’s arenas.
This Puzzle Strategy is not intended as a once-and-done exercise, or as something that will produce discernible results in a day of practice. My wife (my Proofreader) commented that this looks like a semester of class work. In reality, it’s more like a lifetime of effort.
So, let’s get started… Download the PDF of this article and use it as a Study and Practice Guide.
Let’s suppose that you want to become a writer of excellent material.
What is the first step to take?
Label the goal: I will become a writer of excellent material.
Find writing that is recognized as Excellent. There are numerous authors who qualify at this level.
Make it your work to read and study the writings of several authors in several different genres.
This may take weeks to accomplish. But don’t rush. Take the time to understand excellent writing when you read it.
Study the parts of the puzzle: words, sentences, paragraphs, transitions, essays…
During your reading and study you will likely discover some work that especially appeals to you, words and sentences that resonate with your emotions and intelligence.
Break these passages and paragraphs into their parts. Study how the words fit together to create images and concepts.
Move the words and phrases around to see if they can fit into other shapes and patterns.
Apply the emotions and ideas to your unique set of life experiences.
Write the material in your own words. This practice will be invaluable to your writing career.
Identify the edges.
Pay attention to the number of sentences used by the original/professional author. Notice the lengths of the sentences and paragraphs. Notice the subjects and verbs of each sentence. Each has probably been chosen with care to assist in the crafting of the intellectual and emotional response that you had to the writing. Notice the placement of the subjects and predicates, of modifiers: adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases.
Repeat Steps 1 – 4 several times before going on.
Work on the smaller groups of the puzzle.
Develop your understanding of the sentences by working on each sentence separately.
Move the parts around… put the subject in a different part of the sentence. Repeat moving the parts around with the verbs, and the modifiers.
Change the words to ones that you would commonly use. Notice what that does to the tone, the emotion, the overall meaning.
BTW, if the ideas of subject, predicate, verb, modifiers… are uncomfortable for you, you probably ought to start with the basics of writing until these labels are thoroughly understood. Try teaching them to an 8-year old to see if you really understand.
Now work on the groups of sentences that form paragraphs.
Change the order of the sentences within the paragraph. Take each sentence out, one-at-a-time, to see what happens, how the meaning is changed or destroyed.
Practice writing paragraphs to state a simple idea or experience. Use paragraphs of different lengths.
Finally, outline an original essay or short work that supports the author’s ideas, but using your experiences and understanding. (‘Outline’ doesn’t have to look like your high school English teacher demanded. Just create a plan using words and phrases. Then put the plan in a particular sequence to guide your writing.)
Use the main idea from Step 4 to re-write the material so that it says something new… perhaps the exact opposite of the original author’s concept.
Repeat with a new author or piece of writing. Then repeat again.
If you have a friend who is not intimidating to you, from whom you can listen to instructive criticism without getting your feelings hurt. enlist that person’s help.
Or enroll in a community college writing course.
As you work through this sequence you will likely discover a voice that you like for your writing. Practice that voice. Hone it so that it is automatic for you. Practice it with different genres of writing.
Participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).
Excellence, Your Choice
Excellence is not about being better than others. Excellence has been defined as ‘doing more than you thought you could.’
Perhaps, as in “I never dreamed I could write like that.”
Or reading something that you wrote and feeling the emotion rise in you in response to the words, phrases, ideas that came from your mind.
Excellence is always the result of choice. You choose to do your best, or you choose not to. Not choosing is still a choice.
I put my best into each task that I attempt. That’s excellence, for me. Yet, I expect to do better on the next iteration of the task.
Writing, for me, is an outlet. My ideas, my emotions, my memories flow onto the page and are left there as a legacy for my family and friends. Even if no one else reads them, I have written and published to the world words that no one else could put together like I did.
Writing for an Audience
Writing for others to read is not as easy as writing for only yourself. Your audience cannot pick up on a memory or inference that is activated when you read a line or phrase. So, what makes sense to you may be a puzzle for others.
Find someone who will proofread what you have written and offer insight into what an audience might experience when reading your writing. You might need to have a written agreement with your proofreader, stating that you will not be offended, hurt, or intimidated by the reader’s suggestions.
It’s your choice.
The photo at the top of this article was colored by my grandson when he was 5 years old. I think he did excellent work.
Respond to the ideas presented in this article. Agree? Disagree?
How would you write this article?
What steps would you share with others?
Leave your response in the Comments box.
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Thank you for reading.
I look forward to hearing from you.