Today I read an excellent essay in Young Writers on Writing, by contributor Catherine Bailey. In it, she discusses exactly what is meant when someone says that an individual has potential. I agree with Catherine’s argument that being told we have “potential” is something that many of us seek out, especially writers, even if that potential is never fully explained. How can you really judge the potential of something without specificity? How can a person possibly be guided on the right path without a suggested roadmap, and just the vague notion of “potential”?
I think that as writers we need to seriously gauge where we are and where we would like to be with our craft, and how to get there, but in as specific a manner as possible. For example, I’ve been told that I have a knack for leaving a reader in suspense, but I also know that my dialogue often needs work. But both of these areas require my attention: one because my ability needs to be improved, and one because I need to make sure that my ability doesn’t become stale. If at any point, a writer sits back and thinks, Well, I’ve got everything figured out, the next thought should be, Wait, like hell I do. Personally, I’d be really bored if I ever thought that about my writing, and would probably fold up my notebook and go play some Kingdoms of Amalur.
We need to recognize what we do really well in our writing, and what we need to improve upon. As Catherine Bailey says, it’s easy to become obsessed with the idea of potential, even without ever understanding it beyond a vague notion. So while we can’t drive ourselves nuts, it’s still important to continually grow as a writer and never become stagnant. That, fellow writers, is the only way to realize our “potential” – whatever the hell that means.