“Be Excellent.” They are very wise words to live by for all writers. Do you know who said it? President Abraham Lincoln. I kid you not. Go and rent (or Netflix) a copy of the classic 1980’s sci-fi/comedy Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and you can see for yourself. Honest Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of these United States, says “Be Excellent”. That, and along with realizing that Bill and Ted is probably why everyone in The Matrix films questions Morpheus on the whole idea of Keanu Reeves being The One, are two of the most important things we can learn from the film. If you can’t trust the wisdom of Honest Abe (and cheesy 80’s comedies) who can you trust?
All joking side it is a very wise thing to consider. “Be excellent” what does that mean, besides sounding somewhat egocentric and self serving, and ignoring the fact no human is truly “excellent”. Simply put, I think it means we should try and strive for nothing short of excellence in our writing craft.
However, then the question remains: what does it really mean to be “excellent?” I believe that “excellence” means finding whatever it is you, and only you are really good at. Something that no one else can do. You have to find, as John Milton said, “that one talent, which is death to hide.”For the writer, it is being a writer.
Then once you have found that talent, what do you do with it? Jesus Christ told a very good parable about that subject, a parable that was aptly called “The Parable of the Talents”. In Biblical times, a talent was a large sum of money, roughly thousands of dollars. In this story a man gives a large amount of talents to three people. One man takes his five talents, and gains five more. The other takes his four talents and gains four more .Then the final one just buries his in the dirt. The talent is taken away and given to the first man. The lesson is simply, “To he who is given much, much shall be expected.”
When you are given talents in writing you are expected to use it wisely and to the best of their ability and thereby strive for excellence. No, I will never say that being a writer is as important as being a teacher, a pastor, a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a construction worker, a spouse, or a parent. Far from it. However, if some one is really honestly called to be a writer, then that means they must use it to the best of their ability.
How do you achieve excellence as a writer? You invest in your skill, shape it, hone it. Like a fine cut diamond, or a Rolex watch you make sure that “talent” of yours is the best it can be. Sometimes it means having to slave away at seemingly mundane writing exercises like character sketches or plot diagram. Sometimes it means writing twenty- seven drafts of one novel before you write a draft of it that when you read it you yourself can say, “hey, that’s pretty good.” Most importantly, you are never satisfied with mediocrity.
Does this mean your story will be flawless? Of course not. Even if you were say, a science fiction writer, and you wrote the perfect series, so perfect that there was not one single question left unanswered or one continuity error, there are still going to be readers who demand to know where you put the toilet on your starship. A story can only be as perfect as it’s author and no human is ever perfect. However, whatever it takes, you make sure that your work is nothing short of excellence.
After all if you aren’t going to stop for nothing less then an excellent story, why are you writing?