I don’t watch soccer/football much, in fact, seldom, but I did end up watching the World Cup semi-final match between the Netherlands and Argentina… and the result underscored something I’ve said before, except with regard to basketball. Mastery of the simpler aspects of anything is key to continued success.
The Netherlands and Argentina played to a scoreless tie after regulation, and then after another 30 minute additional period the game was still scoreless. Argentina converted four out of four penalty kicks in the shoot-out, while the Netherlands failed on two out of three attempts. While a penalty kick isn’t nearly as easy as a basketball free-throw, it’s far, far easier than scoring a goal in play, when it’s often difficult to even get near the goal with the ball, let alone get a clear shot. Argentina made that abundantly clear, by not being able to score a single goal in two hours of play, but by putting four out of four shots in the goal in the shoot-out. The Netherlands lost by not being able to accomplish the simpler tasks in the game.
This “case study” goes well beyond soccer or basketball. I’ve seen people lose jobs because they failed to write a simple thank you note, or to recognize a former colleague or superior in a different setting. I’ve seen more than one beginning writer destroy/abort his or her career by arguing violently with editors who have seen scores of writers come and go. I’ve seen political careers tanked because no one asked a simple question – How did things get this way? – before going off in a direction that considering the answer would have most likely precluded. I’ve seen singers lose competitions because, when talents were evenly balanced, the singer with more carefully chosen attire and polite mannerisms topped sloppy dress and flip mannerisms. And in all these cases, and others, the individuals involved were anything but stupid. They just relied on their innate brilliance or talent and ignored mastery of simple skills.
A successful writer needs more than mere story-telling ability and more than mere skill with words, and, more than sometimes, some of those extras are simple skills, such as tact, thank-you notes [NOT emails,unless you’re in the tech world, where hand-written or print thank-yous have become a symbol of backwardness], and a certain amount of respect for those who control one’s fate. And, oh yes, just plain showing up on time…or getting manuscripts in on time — and, here George R. R. Martin is the exception who proves the rule.