I stomped off the field, crying, while men in pantaloons pretended nothing had happened.
I threw my fiberglass bow at my father’s feet like a tennis premadonnna having a tantrum–like a golfer who puts his favorite putter over his knee before he pitches it into the grass. I screwed up my face, made myself look as angry as I could; to hide my tears, which seemed very important at ten. And I complained, bitterly.
“They’re laughing at me, and it’s not fair. I can’t pull it back any farther.”
My father looked at the children’s bow at his feet, and at the men on the archery range who were trying to save my dignity by ignoring me.
“They’re not laughing at you. They’ve just never seen a child hit the bale from that distance, and they think it’s funny.”
I wiped my eyes. I was too old for this kind of behavior, but I’ve always had a temper. “I missed.”
“Yes.” He agreed. “But you missed very well.”
It’s taken my entire life to learn that lesson. To understand how to miss well. To learn from my mistakes, I must abandon the idea of hitting a lucky bullseye. We should all abandon the notion that every shot will be a Robin Hood shot. Or that we’ll even hit the haybale with every pull. In this life, it’s far better to miss well, and be consistent, than to hit the bullseye once and never come close again.
In archery this is called grouping. Like throwing darts, any child can hit the center mark by happenstance or luck. But your grouping–consistently putting the arrows in neat, tight clusters around your target–that takes real mastery, and real practice.
So it is with writing. Or any other creative skill. You should never expect to write one book and hit the bullseye in your genre or market. You should never expect to loose one story upon the world, and eternally reap the rewards. You must shoot thousands of arrows–hundreds of thousands–before you can have a good grouping. And if you miss alltogether, you should miss very well.
The men standing on the archery line that day–the men who had come to the renessance fair dressed like English bowmen–they didn’t hold my tantrum against me. Far from it. They cheered when I got off the grass and came back to the field. They made space for me on the firing line. And when I missed, I missed very well, and they applauded that too.
For all of you writers who are getting your practice shots in; I applaud you. I’m glad to see that you’ve abandoned the bullseye. And I hope you miss well too.
Originally posted to TheProse.