Guest Contributor: Tricia Waguespack
Truth be told, my M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Children and Adolescents can probably be credited for my professional resume more so than my business degree. And while my skills with a paper and pen have gotten me into more than one door, it's the life lessons I've gained from my writing education that have guided my success at the desk.
Butt in Chair. Or BIC as author, Jane Yolen has coined it, speaks to the discipline required in any field, including the arts, to be successful. Whether you are crafting the next great American novel, divining big wisdom from big data, or designing the Eiffel Tower, finding the career path or workplace that inspires you is only a tiny piece of the equation. Honing your skills and working diligently to improve upon yourself needs to be a daily habit. One of the greatest inventors and businessmen in American history, Thomas Edison, agreed "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration."
Show. Don't Tell. In the writing world, we're speaking to the difference between, "Sally cried'" and "Sally made one last attempt to blink back the tears forcing their way through her defenses. Failure." The act of crying may seem like such a universal experience that, as writers, we might expect a reader to relate. But, just mentioning the cry (the end result) ignores the entire internal, personal journey that led to the tangible act of crying. When the reader can empathize with the struggle, they participate with the character. Likewise, the greatest leaders give co-workers, team members and employees a role model to believe in--leading by example rather than memorandums and marching orders.
It's not what you say. It's how you say it. It all started with a lecture in graduate school from Katherine Ayres called "Crunchy Verbs"--this idea that choosing the right word at the right time is the difference between hooking a reader from Page 1 to Page 2, from Chapter 3 to Chapter 4 and even from one book to the next. Kathy's lecture was primarily targeted at steering we novices away from passive (is's and be's) to active (crunch'ing, bunch'ing, burst'ing) verbs, but the premise can be applied across all communications. A story well-told is one worth listening to. One worth re-telling. And one worth getting behind.
Have a love affair with words. In high school, I joined Ad Hoc--an extracurricular group that arranged a couple of poetry readings a year. After school, we met with Mr. Brown to have our poetry critiqued and run through oration exercises in preparation for the big event. Mr. Brown's favorite maxim, "have a love affair with words." His map to a happy, healthy love affair included exploration, innovation, and adventure. Be bold, be diligent, be passionate.
I fully understand that to a non-word-brained person, Mr. Brown's advice may seem absurd at best. But let's generalize the concept for just a minute. Is work not more fulfilling when there is a why behind the work? Does success not come to those who are diligent and deliberate about their actions (See Butt in Chair)? And are the great businesses, great leaders and great inspirers of our society taking a passive approach to change? Or are they striking out with new thoughts and ideas and taking bold, even "crunchy" action?
I'm the first to admit, not everyone can have a love affair with words. But my professional writing career has been blessed by a stream of mentors who, in teaching me how to tell a story, taught me not only how do what I love, but how to thrive personally and professionally while I do it.