Consistency

Kathleen Delaney returns to talk about what consistency

means to her and how important it is for a writer to strive for it.

I watched the US National Figure Skating Championships recently and was once again amazed at the grace, beauty, and unbelievable athletic ability of the skaters. Three revolutions in the air, landing on one foot that’s trying hard to get out from under you while it speeds over the ice on a razor sharp, and razor thin, steel blade, is an amazing accomplishment. Yet, the skaters, their coaches, and the announcers seem to feel it’s expected. They seemed surprised when someone missed, when three revolutions turned into two or only one. Worst of all was when the attempt ended in a fall. That’s when the word consistency would appear. That skater has trouble being consistent, or he/she never misses, they are always so consistent. It got me to thinking of how that word applies not only to ice skating, but to most things in our lives, and how it applies to writing and why it’s so important.

If you make furniture, the people who buy from you depend on the consistency of your quality workmanship. So do the people who come into your bakery or the people who buy the meat, clothes, produce you offer for sale. Sports teams strive for it. For years, the NY Yankees were famous for it. They consistently lead their competition in RBI’s, outs, or just plain winning. They were consistent. It was no accident. They established a level of excellence and worked hard to maintain it.

It’s no different for authors.

You’ve written a book and found a publisher. You’ve promoted your book with comments on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. You have your very own blog and have established a following. You’ve worked hard, very hard, and you are rewarded with the promise of a contract for a second book. Isn’t that wonderful? You can sit back and relax, knock out something for your editor and still take a vacation in the Bahamas. It doesn’t matter much what you turn in. You’ve established yourself.

Wrong. The kids out on that ice, risking life and limb, didn’t learn their first axle and decide they’d done enough. They didn’t do one triple jump and think it was time to relax. After all, they could do that now. Only, how about the next four times they tried to do one? Can they do it again? It’s only when they can do it EVERY TIME that it counts.

Consistency. Mastering something so well that you can do it, not only as well as the first time but better, and you can do it every time.

Is your writing like that? Is your second, or fourteenth, book as good as the first one you wrote? Is it better? It should be.

Nothing stays the same. Ice skaters won’t make that jump without hours of practice. If they slack off, they go backwards. Writers are no different. They won’t write another book as good, or better, each time unless they strive, constantly and consciously, to make it better. You need to tighten the plot a little more, to make the characters more believable, more appealing, their motives more clear. If your readers liked your first book, they have to love your second. If they found your characters engaging the first time out, they must be captivated by them in the second, and the third, and the fourth… What was that word again? Consistent.

How do you, how does anyone keep the quality consistent? Practice. If you’re an ice skater, going to the rink every day defines your practice. It’s a little harder for a writer. But there are ways. Writing a blog can be practice, taking an online class in—something–is practice, going to conferences and listening to other authors tell how they conquered the many pitfalls of writing bad dialog is practice. Letting your reading group read the first fifty pages of your newest project and really listen to what they say, is practice. It helps make your writing consistently better, and that’s what you are after.

Think of authors who you once loved and whose works you no longer pick up. Think of authors whose newest work you look forward to, because you know you are in for a treat. Consistency.

So, don’t turn that second manuscript in just yet. Re-read it. Does it zing? Have you put the thought into it, the work, the passion you put into your first? If you don’t, your hard won readers will go on to someone else, putting your book aside, never to buy another. Or, worse, your publisher will put it aside, the new contract you had so counted on never to be offered.

You set your goals. You are the one, the only one, who can attain them or let them slip away with nothing more than landing one double axel to your credit. It’s up to you. Just remember. Consistency.

5 thoughts on “Consistency

  1. I once heard an author (it might have been Jan Burke, but I can’t swear to that) say that as she writes each book, she thinks “This will be the one that ends my career.”
    The fear of the next book not being up to the standard of the last one keeps me on edge, and I think I work even harder now that I’ve heard people say, “That was good!”
    I can’t imagine phoning it in, writing the same story with different character names in a different location, but I know it happens.
    I agree, we’re all skating at breakneck speed, and when we make that next jump, it has to be as good or better than the last one!

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  2. Excellent post, Kathy. Writing is a never-ending learning process. Do some books shine while others just twinkle? Sure. Can you hit a home run every time? No. Do we keep trying? Of course. I think if a writer is objective, she knows when she’s hit the ball out of the park, or in your analogy, completed those three revolutions. Does that mean the sparkling books aren’t any good? No. Even the biggest, most successful authors don’t shine every time. But that is the holy grail and what we strive for. If we’re not striving for the shine, we’ve lost.

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  3. I’ve thought about how the debut novel gets so much loving (and not so loving: teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling) attention. Mine will be somewhere between 12 and 22 drafts, depending on how I count, by the time it reaches the shelves. Can a followup possibly be as polished and carefully honed? You’re right to stress the importance of this–love the figure skating metaphor!

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  4. Writing, rewriting, revising–it’s an endless process, but we have to let go sometime. I doubt if I can be objective about my own work, but sometimes I can see that something’s missing. Consistency takes a lot of work, but we must keep at it. Nice post, Kathy.

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