In 1989, Daniel Chambliss wrote about the making of Olympic swimmers. He coined the phrase “The mundanity of excellence” to describe how the best swimmers get that way. Sure, they have natural talent. Yes, they have a great work ethic. But there’s more.
The very best of those swimmers, people like Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps, get the most from incredible gifts. But there are lots of other people who have those gifts and don’t become great swimmers. And there are thousands of people without those gifts who become top swimmers. They achieve superlative performance.
That’s what Dan Chambliss wrote about. The way some people get the very most out of the talent they have fascinated him. Here’s how he describes what his research found.
“Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then fitted together in a synthesized whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of these actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly and all together produce excellence.”
You must do that to get the most from your writing talent.
Develop Good Writing Habits
Merriam-Webster defines a habit as: “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.” That’s what you’re after. Practices that you do almost without thinking about them.
Create a regular rhythm for your writing. Some people write every day. Some write every weekend. The word “every” is essential. It’s probably okay to miss one writing session; just don’t make it two in a row.
Develop a method for handling your working material. That includes computer files, notes, drafts, books, and other physical items. Many writers use a “project box” that holds everything for a project.
Develop a method for handling your good ideas. Have a way to capture them when they occur to you. Learn when and where you get your best ideas, then use what you learn. Create a method for getting the ideas and turning them into usable form.
Create a writing session routine that makes you more productive. Eliminate distractions. Start every session the same way. End every session the same way.
Develop a routine for reviewing and revising your content. It should include reading your work aloud and spelling/grammar checks.
Keep Getting Better
Like any craft, one of the great things about writing is that you can always improve.
Read good writing. That will give you an ear for quality. Reading a lot of good material helps you develop mental models that you can rely on to improve your writing.
Get feedback. Ken Blanchard said that “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Critique yourself. Use “better writing” software. Get feedback from coaches and from friends. Not just any friend will do. You want someone who is knowledgeable and has your best interests at heart. You want someone you will listen to.
Try new things. That’s how you learn. Sure, it will be uncomfortable. You will make mistakes. That’s okay, you won’t learn without them.
You and I may not have the talent of a great writer. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get better and better and get the most out of our talent.