Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Write on Wednesday-Practice Makes Perfect

I received a very cool gift today from my blogger friend Deirdre - it's a vintage (circa 1979) chapbook from The Writer's Chapbook Series, entitled Talking About Writing, written by Ursula LeGuin. Ms. LeGuin is probably best known as a science fiction writer, but she has quite a dry wit and humor, which is in evidence throughout this engaging little booklet.

"People come up to you if you're a writer," she starts out, "and they say, I want to be a writer. How do I become a writer? I have a two stage answer for this," she continues. The first stage answer to this question is: You learn to type."

This reminded me instantly of an old chestnut musicians hear a lot: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!

It's really a very basic truth for a musician, and I don't know why as a writer, I don't think the same way. Because the second stage of Ms. LeGuin's answer to the question of "How do I become a writer?" was: Write.

I've had writing dreams and inclinations for most of my life~they've run side by side with my music inclinations, although I've "done" more music than writing over the past 50 some odd years. But for every performance, every concert, every competition, even every rehearsal, I've done probably three times as much practicing in preparation. I would never think of going out onto a stage without practice, practice, practice. And not just of the pieces I'll be performing. Practice for a musician involves all kinds of other things - like scales and arpeggios for the fluidity in the fingers and wrists, Czerny and Hanon for speed and flexibility, practicing the piece with hands apart, or starting from the back and working your way forward... in other words, we come at a piece of music from all sorts of angles in order to get it up to performance quality.

Why not do the same with writing? Somewhere in the back of my mind lurks this notion that you don't sit down to the page unless you've got a nearly finished product at least stored in your head. You don't bother writing something unless it's going to be published, or, at the very least, submitted to something. Why write if it's not going to be read?

For the same reasons I sit at the piano all those hours. Because it takes practice to perfect the craft. Your fingers get stronger, your ear becomes more sensitive to what the composer is trying to say. The more you write, the better your facility with words, with putting sentences together, with description, with ideas...you get the picture.

And "practice" shouldn't be a dirty word. My mother always bragged to other parents that she never had to "make" me practice the piano, and it's true. I loved practicing - I loved playing, which is they way I thought of it.

Since I've been blogging, and doing morning pages, I've started thinking of writing as a "practice" in the way people speak of yoga or meditation as a practice - a habit that enriches your life spiritually, intellectually, physically, and emotionally. I enjoy playing around with words, so I do more of it. I study the craft of writing, I take apart my sentences and re-arrange them for the fun of it, I sit with a dictionary or thesaurus looking for better words to use. And I do all this with no objective other than to enrich myself and improve my ability.

How about you? Do you practice writing? do you consider your writing a "practice" in your life?

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12 Comments:

Blogger Star said...

What a wonderful gift to receive. The more styles we are exposed to, the broader our base from which to write.

I do a lot of writing, but I don't know that I'd call it "practicing." The writing exercises you've been sharing sound like so much fun to explore, but I never seem to sit down to that kind of writing, and I think one underlying reason is that I have the mindset you've described, where you feel you must have a finished product that only needs to be set on paper or a reason (other than person pleasure alone) to dabble at it.

One more reason: not enough hours in the day to play!

6/06/2007  
Blogger deirdre said...

I knew this little book needed to be with you. This is wonderful.

Yes, writing is a practice for me, an end in itself. There's something so sacred in the act of putting pen to paper, a meditation to center my life.

Practice, practice, practice - it applies to so much of life.

6/06/2007  
Blogger InlandEmpireGirl said...

I have also been on a word choice kick and worked at using stronger verbs. I did a writing workshop two summers ago and the presenter used ideas from another book By Ursula K. LeGuin. It is Steering the Craft. I really like it. ( I got it cheap used on Amazon)

6/06/2007  
Blogger Ally Bean said...

I like the idea of writing being a practice. It takes the burden of producing something off of it, and lets the words flow. Good thought.

6/07/2007  
Blogger Tammy said...

Nice gal to send such an inspiring gift. Each time I blog it's practice and I hope someday my grandkids will read it. HUGS

6/07/2007  
Blogger paris parfait said...

There's a book that resonated with me in 1995 and an expression from it is my screensaver. The book has possibly the worst title ever - The Dork of Cork, by Chet Raymo -but a great story. The expression in the book is "just paint," addressed to a budding artist. But the book is also about a writer (who happens to be a dwarf) and so "just write" stuck in my head. And it's true. Sitting down to do it every single day, rather than just thinking about doing it, has made all the difference for me.

6/07/2007  
Blogger Tori said...

I have made strides with writing as a practice in the last year. I have finally allowed myself to devote time on a regular basis to it.
Right now I am in the beginning stages of really paying attention to the craft of the words.

6/07/2007  
Blogger jzr said...

Well said, Becca! It is only through "playing" with words that we begin to understand them and master their use. The same with playing the piano. A word is a word, like middle c is middle c. Until the word or the note is put together with other words or notes, they mean little. With out playing with them or practice, they still mean nothing.

6/07/2007  
Blogger GreenishLady said...

Although when I have given writing workshops, I say something along those lines, I realise I spend less time on the 'practicing' than any musician or dancer does. I don't count my morning pages as practicing, though - and neither do I count them as product. What are they exactly? I know i don't see them as writing at all. I think of artists making sketches, from all angles, little line drawings, doodles, 'studies' of their subject, and think of how if my first attempt to portray something doesn't seem successful, I will so often say "that doesn't work". I think I have to start heeding my own advice - and yours. Thank you.

6/07/2007  
Blogger Becca said...

Star: There are never enough hours in the day~ i'm always looking for a few minutes to steal here and there.

Deirdre: Thank you once more for the gift~ of the book, and the support for my writing practice :)

inlandempiregirl: Thanks for stopping by and for the recommendation!

ally bean: Any idea that reduces the pressure to "produce" is a good one in my book!

Tammy: you're giving your grandkids a wonderful gift- not just your words, but the value you place on writing.

Tara: It has been said many times, many ways, and it's still true - you just have to DO IT :)

Tori: I'm so glad you're expanding your writing practice, and letting it feed your life. Your words have certainly been a blessing to me :)

Joan: Good point! It's through playing and practice that we learn to manipulate words (and notes) to get our message across.

Greenishlady: I count my morning pages as "practice," because I often end up exploring things there and working out some of my ideas for stories, poems, etc. They become a way of "dipping into the well" as JC advises us to do. They're sort of like the warm ups I do at the piano~ scales, etc.

6/07/2007  
Blogger Bibi said...

To me it's an organic process so I've never considered it a practice, but I understand why people and teachers do.

Well, I have to retract that somewhat, because I started my blog as a sort of practice. I write on deadline all the time and it was nice just to write about anything I wanted with any word count I wanted.

I do notice that the more I write, the easier things flow. And I actually stopped writing for corporations because the last thing I wanted to do when I finished at the end of the day, was to write for my own projects ... no matter how much I wanted to get them done.

6/13/2007  
Blogger unedited-life said...

I'm learning the craft, thanks for this inspiration.

6/14/2007  

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