When I was a kid, my mom had a rule at the dinner table: “Eat everything on your plate.” I was okay with it most of the time. Mom was a great cook who never failed to deliver a stunning meal even when she didn’t have much to work with. But sometimes…sometimes that rule was a tough pill to swallow. Especially when Lima beans were involved.
But what I didn’t realize was that mom was teaching me an important principle way back then: it’s just as important to do the things you don’t like as it to do the things you love.
As a writer I love the feeling of crafting a sentence or paragraph that works, words that flow into one another naturally and easily. It’s what makes the act of writing truly magical for me. But unfortunately that isn’t the only thing on my plate.
There is more expected of me as a writer than the crafting of powerful sentences; I also have to craft a powerful story. And crafting a powerful story involves planning and forethought. All the elements of the plot have to fit together in the same way that all the elements of the sentence need to fit together. Not only should they make sense, but they should move the reader at his very core.
But the problem is that plots like that don’t just fall onto the page naturally. They need to be planned. They need to be…deep breath, I can do this…outlined.
There. I said it. Outlining. I like it about as much as I like Lima beans. But recently I’ve come to realize that what I like doesn’t really matter. I realized I needed to approach my writing like I approached mom’s dinner. It’s fine to enjoy the good stuff, the stuff you really love, but sometimes you’ve got to eat some Lima beans too.
Which means when the time comes to start my next big work, I’m going to have to get out the sharpies and the 3×5 cards and start planning. It probably won’t be fun, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore it. There will be time for fun later on when I’m soaring through that first draft spinning sentences out of the raw aether.
This isn’t a post about outlining; it’s a post about doing what doesn’t come naturally. Maybe you love outlining. Maybe you go to town with those little 3×5 cards and a black magic marker and make that plot work baby.
But the odds are good there’s some other aspect of writing you fall short at. And that is the thing you’re going to have to conquer if you want to become a truly great writer.
Doing what comes naturally is easy. We can play from our strengths all day long. But playing from our strengths isn’t going to make us great. If we aspire to greatness we’re going to have to learn to work through our weaknesses.
The writer we are is the core of our strengths, the essence of our love of the craft. But the writer we are isn’t enough. We have to reach out to the things we don’t like, the areas of the craft that make us wary and uncomfortable and learn to embrace them as well.
We have to eat our Lima beans. We have to become the writer we aren’t.