Like many of you, Kay and I watched last Thursday evening as Olympic figure skater Evan Lysacek turned in the performance of his life to capture the gold medal, besting favorite Yevgeny Plushenko. The turning point of the whole contest was hyped as being Plushenko's ability to do "quads"--jumps that involve four revolutions. Lysacek is apparently one of the hardest working skaters to come down the pike in a long time, but a quad isn't in his repertoire. However, he has put in countless hours of practice to make every aspect of his performance the best. Plushenko supposedly was dependent on his ability to do a jump that only a few of his competitors would even attempt.
I loved the comment of Lysacek's mother, when told that Plushenko had said no one who couldn't do a quad should win. She came back to aver that someone who could only do a quad shouldn't win.
In the end, Lysacek's hard work paid off and he stood on the center of the podium as the Star Spangled Banner played.
Is there a lesson here for writers? A couple, actually. One is that in figure skating, although there are rules and mandatory deductions for errors, the judging is, in the final analysis, subjective. In downhill skiiing, if you follow the rules, stay on your skis, and cross the finish line first, you win. Objective. Clearcut. Not so with skating. Is what happens to a writer's product objective or subjective? There are rules, but in the end there's a good bit of subjectivity in the judging. More about that in a moment.
The second lesson is that hard work and consistency in all aspects of your craft can pay dividends. Flash and something that's unique can sometimes get you there, but proficiency stands a better chance in the long run. It's been said that it takes ten thousand hours spent writing to develop the ability necessary to reach publication. There may be a few people who can short-circuit that, but by and large an apprenticeship of study and work is the best route to get there.
And once you reach that level of writing, the ultimate judgment is still subjective. Your success depends on the response of agents, editors, publishers, and eventually the reading public. Falter anywhere along the way, and you never reach the Olympics--that is, having your work published. On the other hand, if you never try, you have no chance at all.