Is This The Best You Can Do?

I’m not a particularly clumsy person. But sometimes when I’m thinking, I convince myself my body is just my brain and there’s no need to watch where I’m going or pay attention to my surroundings.

That happened yesterday, and I smacked my elbow on the corner of my upstairs hall. It hurt so bad I sat down there on the floor and gave up all hope of life.

I grew up a farm girl. I’ve nearly been killed in several accidents, I’ve stabbed my hand on sharp wire and lost a lot of blood, I’ve been bitten by dogs, been stung by hornets when they flew up my jacket sleeve, and been chased by snakes in the pond. I’m no weakling. And yet, sitting there in the hall clutching my elbow, it occurred to me that this is what I expect my characters to handle, except much more.

I expect them to take it, process it, handle it, and still win. I take everything away from them– friendships, family, health, resources. I cause them pain (for good reasons, I have to remind myself) and just when they get it handled and get back up, I knock them down again.

In trying to be a good writer, I have to test my characters. I have to throw everything at them, push them to change and become active and either fall or rise. The whole process of telling the story is me asking them, “Is this the best you can do?” I expect the best from my characters. Is this the best fight you can put up, the sharpest thinking you can do, the greatest love you can give, the hardest you can try?

When we expect so much from our characters, we’d better not be expecting less of ourselves. As a writer, are you doing your story justice? In the time I’ve spent editing and writing (not nearly enough) I’ve started to realize the humble writers, the ones who are willing to go back to the drawing board and read books on writing craft and take the harsh critiques, are the ones who make it.

When you’re asking yourself if you’re ready to query, if you’re done with edits, if you need to change this or that, here’s the question to ask: Is this the best you can do? We ask for the best, the most, the hardest things, from our characters. Give your writing your best, and keep asking yourself, “Can I do better? Is this all I’ve got? Is this the best I can do?”

Find the answers to those questions, chase them down, settle for nothing less, and you’ll become a good writer.

One thought on “Is This The Best You Can Do?

  1. Thanks, Kate. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I do need to demand more of myself as a writer (among other things in my life) and I need to expect more from my characters. But I’m only working on my third novel so I still have lots of learning and growing to do.

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