On the Pursuit of Perfection

Randy and I were up way too late Friday night watching VH1 Classic - a favorite past time. The show was Rush in Rio, the concert that brought the band back together. We've always been big Rush fans - and I'm particularly fascinated by Neil Peart. An amazing drummer, Peart seems to me one of the great geniuses of our time, able to coax unbelievable beats from his drums, plus he writes many of the lyrics. Which are poetry, pure and simple.

I asked Randy if Peart ever talks about his gift, in terms of a gift. Or if he practices all day, every day. Or if it's a bit of both. Randy said it was definitely both and told me the story of how Peart went to New York and worked with a jazz coach to improve his skills. Neil Peart, people. Possibly the best drummer who ever lived, taking lessons.

It made me think of Tiger Woods, how back when he was at the top of his game, he got into what he perceived as a slump and switched swing coaches. Pro golfers, like pro musicians, and all pros, of every kind, practice. A lot. All day. It is their job. It is their purpose. It's how they maintain their level of professionalism. If they didn't put in the time, they'd lose their spot at the top.

Coming into the 2012 summer Olympics, we are about to see this relentless pursuit of perfection personified by the best athletes in the world. I think that's part of the draw to these events, the awe-stopping nature of knowing just how much work actually goes into getting to be world-class.

As writers, we too must practice. But I'm always surprised when I hear writers say they don't read books on the craft. It boggles my mind, really. How else are we to get better if we don't expose ourselves to other writer's stories, and either emulate or adapt our own processes and thinking to theirs? How else will we sharpen our intuition and experiment?

I just ordered WRITING THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL by Al Zuckerman, Ken Follett's agent, based on a conversation I had with Laura Lippman, Jeff Abbott and others on Facebook. Laura mentioned a method she was using to outline her story, and kindly shared her actual outline. In reading it, I realized what I was doing wrong. Not wrong, exactly, because it works, I was just making things so much more difficult for myself. I now have a new method to try, to practice with, to hone into my own.

We must read, and write every day. And if a cool craft book comes your way, by all means, read it. You never know what you might learn. Here's a list of craft books I think are tops in the field, in no particular order:

On Writing - Stephen King
Write Away - Elizabeth George
The Writer's Journey - Christopher Vogler
Screenwriting Tips for Authors - Alexandra Sokoloff
Forest For The Trees - Betsy Lerner
The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp
Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life – Winifred Gallagher
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Hamlet's Blackberry - William Powers
The Artist's Way - Julia Cameron

Do you have any favorite ways to learn?