Michael Haynes has recently released a non-fiction eBook “Write Every Day: Hints & Tips Towards a Daily Writing Routine.” He blogs regularly about writing-related topics at michaelhaynes.info and writeeveryday.info
To “leave it all on the field” in sports means to have not held anything back, to have given your all. I thought of this concept last night watching — of all things — Saturday Night Live audition videos. Here I saw Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, John Belushi… All of them leaving it all on their chosen field. The camera was on just them but you could occasionally hear commentary (and very occasionally, laughter) from those who were watching the auditions. All of these people were skilled performers to have reached that point, but you could see on their faces just how important this moment was to them. It was absolutely fascinating.
From there, my mind jumped to my own closest experience to these auditions: in-person tryouts for the televised quiz program Jeopardy. Twice I’ve made it past the online test and been invited to travel to near(ish) cities for those in-person events. Several dozen other qualifiers were there each time and we all went through written tests, mock games, and mock interviews. You go through all this and then you’re thanked for your time and told that you might (or might not) get the call to fly out to Los Angeles to (maybe) be on the show sometime in the next eighteen months.
My first time I sort of winged it and suspect I did so-so, but not well enough to make it on. I didn’t make it to the program with my second try, either, but when I left the room from that tryout I felt on top of the world. Why? Because I knew I’d left it all on the field. I’d read up more on the tryout process before my second experience and had learned that you’re being judged every second that you’re in the room, even if it’s not obvious. So I made a point to be “on” at all times, even when the people evaluating us were supposedly away from the room looking at our paper tests. I’m not a naturally outgoing person and would normally just sit quietly unless someone engaged me, but I made a point to chat up other contenders throughout that period. Even now, though my eighteen months are over, I feel happy with how I performed that day.
When writing for publication, if you want to reach the top levels, you’re unlikely to meet with success doing things halfway. You have to leave it all on the field or, in our case, the page.
But what does that mean? To me, it means that when I go to send a story out for the first time, that I want to feel like the story is as good as I, right now, can make it.
To me, it doesn’t mean going through endless revisions, but it does mean taking a critical look at your own story and not just saying “Eh, it’s good enough.” Professional-level editors are rarely going to buy “good enough.” Readers of these publications aren’t likely to rush out to read your other works because they thought that one was “good enough.”
No one is going to have every story they write be brilliant. And as we grow as writers, stories that once represented our best effort no longer will. But when we’re writing something new, we should always be looking to leave it all on the page.