Every writer has at least one. Some, I think, realize it at the moment they reach the last line of the finished draft of a particular piece of writing: a realization leaps up -- this is it, the one. Others only see it only in retrospect.
I'm talking about a breakthrough piece, a piece of writing which embodies a clear jump from one level of craft and skill to another one, a level a good distance up the slippery hill that is our writing climb.
Last week, a writer with whom I have been working on and off for about three years, had hers. I suspected it was coming, was watching for it, hoping for her it wouldn't be much longer; and then I knew. I knew it from the first page; it was the latest draft (number six, I believe) of a long nonfiction narrative she's been working hard at for about seven months.
This was her breakthrough piece.
Everything had come together - narrative arc, character development, pacing, rhythm, language, voice, dialogue, detail, description. There was a confidence on the page, a conviction, a assured hand, that had not been there before.
Let me be clear – this is a talented, hard working writer anyway, and her work is already good. Yet she was, shall we say, working her B game, maybe B+. I knew there was an A game in her. And then, in this particular draft, she stepped up, dramatically; she'd found her sweet spot and I could tell it wasn't a fluke. The piece was at once both powerful and carefully planned, and yet appeared effortless, organic.
We talked about it, and I was not surprised to hear that she already knew there was something different, something important about this revision. We talked about the wonder of the moment when a writer realizes how much more she can do on the page.
Oh, I can do that? Yes, I can do that. I can do that. I have an A game.
That's delicious, and a little bit terrifying. Because next, of course, comes the idea of maintaining that A game. But that's another writing life story.
A breakthrough, meanwhile, requires savoring.