Monday, November 2, 2009

It Takes Practice

Okay, so my boy kidlet takes piano lessons. He's pretty good. But he's got this weird thing. When he sits down to play, he gets frustrated when it's not perfect the first time. When he has to go back and back (and back) and practice certain parts.

So the other day, I was in the kitchen while he was practicing. And he was frustrated and muttering to himself. (Don't know where he gets that!) And I said, "You practice to get it right. You can't expect to sit down and have it be perfect the first time."

He said, "I know."

And then I dropped the stupid pan I was washing because I'd just learned the gospel truth about writing.

You can't expect to sit down and have it be perfect the first time. It takes practice.

Then I went to my live crit group, and one of the girls talked about practicing. It was like a profound moment. Because it's so true. I've penned a lot of novels--I won't tell you how many because it's quite embarrassing.

Only 3 of them are worth working on. Perfecting. The others? Just practice.

And you know what? That's okay. THAT'S OKAY. Through practice, we get better.

What do you think? Do you have "practice" novels? Do you allow yourself to write, knowing it's just for practice?

29 comments:

Eric said...

Great post, Elana. This is so true. And it's really timely, since I'm in the throes of NaNo. Thanks for the reminder.

Melanie Avila said...

I have a hard time practicing. I tend to pick things up really quickly and if I don't grasp something almost immediately, I'm sometimes tempted to move on to something else. (Usually I figure it out before that happens.)

I think it makes perfect sense that we need to practice writing like anything else, I just wish I could lower my personal expectations.

Scott said...

I think every novel is a practice novel. There are some, however, that move beyond the practice stage to the symphony hall performance stage. : )

I've written many novels, but right now, as far as publication, my focus is on just two of the many novels I've written. As for the others, well, I guess those fall into the practice stage and, at some point, I'll flex my fingers a bit and start getting those ready for a major performance with some tweaks here, there, and everywhere.

S

Aubrie said...

I'm a professional flutist, meaning all I do for a living is teach and play flute, and you are soooo right!

My students all get frustrated when they can't get it right the first time. It's so hard to watch. I think in this modern day people are used to pressing the "Easy" button and everything just works.

Well, some things still need hard work, thank goodness. And I use a lot of the skills I've developed being a musician in writing novels.

Great post!

Jen Chandler said...

I wrote down your profound revelation about practice and plan to post it above my writing desk (as soon as I get one!).

I have a couple of practice books. Let's just say I'm very, VERY thankful that I have improved :) Those books will more than likely stay in the box they were packed away in when we moved. Not pretty at ALL!

Jen

storyqueen said...

I agree with Scott. For me, every novel is practice. Some are good enough to try and polish, some were fun to write, but when I read them, there is not the pull to revise, some are just kind of, well,.....um, yeah.

The truth is, my crap-o-meter doesn't kick in until the piece is done. So I write everything as if I am practicing.....I don't want to get all excited and then.....yuck.

Shelley

L. T. Host said...

I'm like Melanie, it feels like everything has to count. But eventually, it all becomes practice anyway, even the successful stuff, for everything that comes after. So I'm okay with that, and if something I am so certain is perfect doesn't work out, it's all right because the next one will be even better because of it. Great post!

Paul Greci said...

That's exactly what I used to tell my students who'd balk at writing because they wanted it to be perfect the first time.

And yes, I've got a couple practice novels under the bed in a box. And some false starts, too.

T. Anne said...

I have that in common with him! lol. I'd love to be perfect the first, second or third time but it just doesn't happen.

Danyelle said...

You're absolutely right, Elana. :) The only thing I would elaborate on is what your son does with the piano. He's worked hard and long enough to catch his mistakes, so he knows where he needs to focus his attention. To grow as a writer, we must not only practice, but we must be able to spot our mistakes (and have the humility to accept criticism from those who want us to succeed) as well. In terms of bike riding, I would never have learned how to ride a bike if all I ever did was practice falling. :p

Suzyhayze said...

I love practicing!

ali said...

My blog is practice!

I have a few things I've written for practice, and my first (and second and third) versions of my novels are for practice. I only *start* getting it right around the fourth to sixth time through revisions. Yikes!

Nisa said...

Oh no! My life is flashing before me! You say I need to what? Haha! You're right of course. Practice makes better.

WindyA said...

Practice novels .. oh yes. And perfecting. Yes again. It's amazing how much your writing can change based on how much you do it, even if it is in a very short period of time!

~Jamie said...

yes oh yes! And in those books I write about the crappiest of crap EVER! I love it!

Liza said...

--No novel at all, just a blog--which for me is practice. Practice, practice, practice. Like a piano player, a dancer, an athlete, it takes practice to improve, to become good. If you have the drive to practice regularly, you WILL reap the rewards.

Lisa and Laura said...

Oh yes, we have a practice book under our belt and I'm sure we have more in our future. It's amazing how much better you get from book to book in these early days of your career. Part of me will be a little sad once we're all grown up and we've really figured things out. It's sort of fun to learn and grow so much with each project.

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

I really enjoyed your post today. I played piano as a child, and I hated to practice. I actually played more often after I stopped taking lessons.

As an adult, I am still trying to learn that it's better to go plink, plink, clank that to make no music at all.

After a discouraging two days trying to pound out some words for my unofficial nano-style commitment, your post was much needed.

Thanks.

Katie Ganshert said...

I'm reading SO many wise posts today. Superb stuff today, my friend. Very wise. Another way to look at it is: our first drafts are sort of a practice round. Revision is when the actual game takes place. My rough drafts are all beyond shoddy.

L.T. Elliot said...

I'm currently "practicing" for Nano and learning how different it is for me to know that it's "just" practice. I never knew my internal editor had so much control over me. This idea of practice: beautiful. I'm in love with it.

Jemi Fraser said...

I consider my nano draft from last year practice. This one may end up in the same category :)

I also do a lot of practising in my head before the writing even makes it to the paper!

Secretia said...

I've been playing the piano 30 yrs, not good at it, but i like it.

christine said...

I just love the truth in this post...and It was a hard lesson for me to learn. But yeah, writing takes a lot of PRACTICE!

MG Higgins said...

Have to admit, I have a couple of practice novels. And you're so right, writing is like any skill.

PJ Hoover said...

I want to see everything I've written published, but I'm so happy to revise it's crazy. So in that respect they are like practice.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I wrote for ten years before sitting down and writing my first novel. I like to think this one will be publishable, but we'll see when I get to querying in 2010!

Icy said...

I must admit...I have an annoying tendency to sit down and expect perfection to flow the minute I start writing. It's so unbelieveably unrealistic that I get cross at myself...which means that whatever I write ends up being rubbish, thus making myself more cross...

I think that's why NaNoWriMo is a godsend. It's making me simply write, regardless of how 'rubbish' the end result may be. At least I'll have something to work on when I'm done, unlike those times when I'm too cross at not being perfect to do any writing in the first place!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Yep, I've got some of those practice novels. Some I've taken subplots from and reworked into new novels. Without doing that, I never would have come up with my current concepts. One novel started off as YA fantasy. I rewrote it into a YA paranormal (never even bothered to query it though) with a different twist to it. But then I decided I wanted to write YA contemporary instead. So I took a storyline from it and have reworked it with a completely new twist. You wouldn't even recognize the original novel (fantasy) in it (all the names have even changed). ;-)

Anna Flaa said...

Practice writing is my life-blood right now. If not for NaNoWriMo (which is also going to be mostly practice writing for me this year), I would only have time for writing bits and pieces once in a great while. When I'm scribbling something down in my writing journal, I know I won't probably ever return to it, but just getting the creativity down on paper is the point. And, like you said, it's a practice.

Something else that came to mind with this post was the "inner editor" in all of us. The part of our subconscious that can't just keep writing because we just realized something wasn't quite right. So we go back and start adjusting things, correcting sentences, making the style better...and never actually finish what we were working on. Instead of just "practiciing," we get hung up on all of the things that we think are "wrong" about our writing...

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