Thursday, January 13, 2011

We Can't Keep Them All (On Writing as Practice)

Tonight, as I walked into the University of York to do a nighttime writing session, I passed by a well-lit soccer field and watched four guys doing intense goalie drills. Two of the guys would kick soccer balls to the two guys opposite them, who would catch the balls, roll them back, do a foot-fire drill, then change locations and do it again.

It looked riveting.

It looked exhausting.

It looked like it probably felt: grueling without recognition or reward.

But when gametime arrives, those hours spent drilling at night when everyone else was watching TV or eating cheese curls (nothing against cheese curls here--I actually ate a bag myself earlier today, as did Tyler), these guys were practicing.


In sports, we don't find it odd to think that athletes spend countless hours practicing something that they do, in real game situations, a relatively small percentage of the time.

In music, a similar fraction holds. An orchestra might spend hundreds of hours rehearshing for a single, two-hour-long concert.

Yet in writing, many of us convince ourselves that we've got to have the perfect words, the perfect lines, the perfects plots all in place or else the idea isn't worth birthing into reality.

But the truth is, those athletes and musicians can't keep those countless hours--those are all preparation. And in writing, neither can we keep all our words. We need to free ourselves to start practicing.

Have you ever sat down and said, "Okay, today I am going to write A LOT. And I am going to write a lot that will never see the inside of a book or a magazine or even a blog. I am simply going to practice"?

Ever wonder why we don't let ourselves think this way as writers?

I'd venture that it's because somewhere along the way, we learn that writing is supposed to be different. It doesn't play by the same rules. If it's worth writing down, then it should already be perfect. It should be clever, witty, wise, worthwhile, and all without taking too much work.

But this kind of thinking gets us into massive amounts of trouble. It makes us think, Who am I to write? A thousand people can do it better than me!


Because you're not letting yourself practice.

You're holding that violin in your hands, then jumping onto the stage and visualizing the crowd wince when the notes won't dance the way you want them to.

If you can teach yourself that it is okay to practice--that it is okay to write and write without any of it being publishable--then the lines you write when it's gametime will be that much more honed, clarified, and strong.

The words you craft in the light will hold power and meaning because of the practice you allowed yourself to conduct in the dark.

So come on. Open up a new document. Crack open your notebook. Write something without worrying who will see it. Write something for no other reason than to strengthen the muscles in your fingers, and the muscle in your heart.

In time, you'll live along the lines of practice into the game. But for now, allow yourself to believe that we can't keep all our words. In fact, the only way we imbue them with beauty is, indeed, when we let them go.