I ruined steak for my brother when I split a Ruth’s Chris gift card with him. He took one bite of a Ruth’s Chris steak, and he was done, forever. Literally slayed in the seat. Agog with wonder that a steak, a steak, could taste that good.
Any time he goes to another steak place like Texas Roadhouse or Outback, he mentally compares it to Ruth Chris and orders chicken-fried steak or chicken—anything but steak. Why go through the inevitable heartbreak and disappointment? Ruth’s Chris gave him another standard by which to measure food, and it permanently changed his palate.
I think writers, at least the ones of the better variety, can and should do the same thing. They raise the level of the writing so far that readers transform. Their tastes change. They become aware that better writing exists, and it wrecks them to read anything less.
Writers don’t often start out with words of that quality; it takes time and effort. They work the words and read other, “better” writers. They hone their sense of “good” and “best.” The better writers learn to discriminate, not only in their reading but also with their words.
Such writers practice their craft in the aim of reaching a higher standard. The thing about setting that standard, though, is that it always travels a little higher, a littler further out. The standard always, always demands that writers stretch, brave the unknown, try, try again.
The standard, after all, ultimately is a matter of excellence, and excellence never disappoints. It enjoys doing good work in the present while pushing writers toward the future. It says, “This steak pleased one person. What will you do to delight the next one?”
Image: matryosha (Creative Commons)