Getting Better

In Steve Martin’s online promo for his master class in comedy-writing on Masterclass.com, Martin starts out like this: I was talking to some students and they were saying things like, “How do I get an agent?” and “Where do I get my head shots?” And I just thought, shouldn’t the first thing you’re thinking about asking be, “How do I be good?” That is so utterly right on. Except that I would counter by changing just one word: How do I be better? I studied for a few years with a wonderful writing teacher in Hollywood, Hal Croasmun, who taught us not only all sorts of writing skills but also an endless stream of career skills and brilliant techniques and tips and tidbits from his a overflowing toolbox. But beyond all that, he told us, if we wanted to pursue a genuinely successful career in Hollywood, there were two fundamental rules we needed to follow. Rule #2 was, be easy to work with. Because no matter how talented or brilliant you are, if you’re temperamental or a pain in the neck, then nobody cares. And rule #1? Make your writing excellent. The thing is, I don’t know how to make my writing excellent. It’s too vast a target to hit, even to know how to aim at. I do know this, though: how to make it a little better. That’s what Hal taught. And that, I think, is the secret to excellence: constant incremental improvement. Not being perfect, or even striving to be perfect … but to be always perfecting. There is a story (probably apochryphal) about Brahms, who was a lifelong acolyte at on the Church of...