Focus versus versatility

Scottie Witt, intensely versatile and hard-working performer/trainer/all-around-theatre-geek, has written a blog post about versatility. I quote it, in part (with his permission):
I have now been involved in many aspects of drama for nearly thirty years as a professional practitioner. Versatility and adaptability have proved to be the root of my career’s sustainability. I have chosen not to focus on just one area of this industry and as a result I have not had to rely on a supplemental job to support my career i.e. being a waiter. My choice to create a dexterous career has created so many opportunities I feel very lucky to always be in work.
I, too, have been striving for versatility, writing stories, novels, plays, poetry; working alone or with composers, directors, and actors; performing my own writing; broadening my academic background and writing credentials. It has been argued to me that focusing on one aspect is better than this approach, which seems to some to be mere thrashing around. I'd get better results, they tell me, if I stuck to one thing relentlessly until it started to work.

Obviously, I am of a different opinion. To me all these diverse practices are not really so diverse. They share a common goal, a common "energy" if you will: to grab hold of what's wondrous and miraculous in the world, make it real, and share it. That unifying idea (broad and amorphous though it be) gives an overall direction to what I do, and helps me distinguish between projects and ideas that I desperately want to do and those that I "should" do. "You should send your stories here and here." "You should write about this and this." "You should follow precisely this path to publishing success, which is defined in precisely this way." "You should —" Well, you get the idea.

What gives me joy as a writer might not be what gives other writers joy. Their successes might not actually be successes for me, if they don't match my overall goal. Oh, yeah, sure, I'll admit to a healthy share of Writer Jealousy™; I don't know a single writer who's entirely immune to it. (Nor to its cousin, Writer Snarkiness™, which usually takes the form of "How come that sewage is getting published while my beautiful work languishes?".) But I'm learning, slowly, that others' successes may not even be what I really want. I'm happy for the people winning medals in the Olympics, but do I want one? Except in the vaguest, wouldn't-it-be-cool sort of way, not really.

There is the chance that this line of thought is only a pathetic attempt to convince myself that my not achieving the same awards, publishing deals, good reviews, etc. as so many of my writer buddies is no big deal, that it doesn't mean I'm not as good as they are. But there's also the chance that it's a healthier way to look at my writing: as something that aims to meet my goals and expectations, not someone else's.


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