Thursday, January 24, 2013

Practice Makes Progress

There’s an old adage that says “practice makes perfect” and I’m sure we’ve all heard it, but I’m not going to use it, because frankly, I think it’s a load of BS. Practice can make you better, but it will never make you perfect. There is no such thing as perfect. No, I mean it. Can we just shatter this illusion of perfection right now, please? I’m tired of it. I’m mostly tired of it because I’ve spent most of my life trying to achieve it, and when I fall short (which of course I always do), I feel like a miserable failure. I’ve never learned to internalize the concept of “good” or “better” and if you dare say “good enough” then I would have scoffed at you. I didn’t want to be GOOD ENOUGH, I wanted to be THE BEST. There are worse things to aspire to, I suppose, but even being The Best doesn’t mean you are Perfect. Because you can’t be, the end, amen.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the concept of practice. When I was five or so, I was in dance class like probably every other small child in the area. I have no idea if I was good or not. I do remember being incredibly unmotivated and I hated practicing… so I didn’t. And finally my mom was like, “okay, kiddo, if you’re not going to practice, then you should probably consider that this isn’t a thing you are interested in, and you should quit and find something else to do.” And with barely a second thought, I did. I quit. Which was probably the easiest thing I’ve ever quit because nowadays if the idea of quitting something occurs to me, I get racked with guilt and I never actually let go. It took me six months to quit my job at Target after I started my current “grownup” job. At first, sure, I had practical reasons – I needed to keep my health insurance until the new one kicked in. But after that… well. It’s not like I was making any extra money, and I was wearing myself ragged working seven days a week. I eventually turned in my notice, but I felt horrible doing so. Why? I don’t know. Nobody was benefitting from my sporadic weekend help. I just have problems letting go.

I was much more focused when it came to other activities, proving my mother right. My interests were elsewhere. Softball, if you’ve been around this blog at all in the summer, has been one of the great loves of my life. I didn’t mind practicing that. When I was old enough, I chose to play flute, and while, okay, I was much more gung-ho about it in the first few years when it was new and exciting, I stuck with it through the bitter end and put in just enough practice time not to suck. I didn’t enjoy practicing, I found it to be boring. Scales? Barf. Though you know what? If I were to blow the dust off my flute case today, almost ten years after my final band concert, I bet you a small amount of dollars that I could still play a scale, piece of cake. All that practice builds something we call “muscle memory” which makes my body automatically pick up on things. That’s why I can still play softball, even though most of my interaction with the sport nowadays is as a coach. My throwing, hitting, catching skills are so deeply ingrained into what my body is used to doing, that I could take a few years off and then hop right back in, almost as sharp as ever. (Almost. I mean, let’s face it: I’m not getting any younger.) A few years back when I started taking taekwondo, I had to revisit my sluggish practice-motivation again. I enjoyed it, and I felt like a bad-ass when I was working through the forms, but old habits (or the lack thereof) die hard. I just didn’t want to do it. After I got my black belt, my attendance started to wane. I refused to be one of those people that only went so far as getting their black belt and then quit, but I had too many other things starting to fight for attention – coaching, work, friends, dating, life. I’ve gone back a couple times and I realize that I miss it, but it’s not a priority right now, and I can’t give it the attention that it deserves.

All this is a really round-about introduction for me to tell you what I’m up to right now. Because guess what else you need to practice at to get better at? Writing. WHAT? I KNOW. Writing is like anything else: the more you do it, the better you will be. It doesn’t matter how much talent you may or may not have; if you work at it, you will get better. There are roughly a bajillion quotes from well-known writers out there who drive this point home. It’s not about how naturally it comes – it’s about how hard you work. Just like anything else in life.

I’ve not made a secret of the fact that I really, really want to be a writer. I’ve wanted it since I was ten and got a weird ten-year-old high off of creating stories. Folded and stapled sheets of notebook paper were my drug of choice. I was addicted. But then I promptly freaked the hell out when I was in high school and realized I had to decide a Career, because it’s the smartest idea ever to make kids decide what they want to do with their lives when they are seventeen years old and don’t know anything about what life actually entails. Seriously, how did this become a normal practice? It’s dumb. But I digress. I pored through all of the career books in our school library, systematically dismissing fields that bored me or at the very least didn’t interest me. I always kept coming back to the jobs about writing and advertising. My mother is actually the one who planted the seed of graphic design into my head; I looked into it, and the more I read about what graphic designers did, the more I fell in love. THAT was what I wanted to do. It appealed to my creative side and it seemed like a more legitimate (read: employable) profession. Writing was terrifying, because: well, if you’re an aspiring writer, you know why it’s terrifying. It was this idea of putting all of my eggs into my career-dream basket and then if that fell through, I would be left with absolutely nothing. Graphic design seemed safer.

So I went on my merry little way through design school, and I did enjoy it, and I was probably decently okay with it, but I was distracted. My biggest battle with depression hit me right around my sophomore year and I never fully recovered from it in terms of the level of motivation to be a great designer. I did okay. I enjoyed it. But deep down, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted. I started my first incarnation of a blog and that, quite frankly, pulled me out of the dark spaces. It saved me. So I kept doing it. But I never, ever reconsidered choosing it as a vocation.

Fast forward to right now because this post is getting really long and the details don’t matter. I’ve been agonizing over this, and I’ve finally admitted, out loud, to certain people and even on this blog, that what I want to do is write books. It’s not just that I wanted to be a writer, it’s that I wanted to be a novelist. (Go big or go home, right?) I would love to write a collection of humorous or profound essays (kind of like a blog on steroids) but I will not be satisfied until I complete and ideally publish a novel. (Key word: ideally.)

Super! Good for me, I figured it out. But I had to get started somewhere.

Enter: Alice Bradley.

I’ve mentioned her beforewhen I found her “Write Anyway” column and was completely enamored and started printing off her posts to make a binder that I could read over and over whenever I felt like giving up. Because I'm not weird or anything. But I noticed that she offered a course last year on writing called The Practice of Writing and my brain promptly dismissed it. For all of the reasons we dismiss things that we’re interested in. Probably for most of the reasons that I closed the browser window instead of signing up for BiSC in 2010. Fear, self-doubt, ALL OF THE EXCUSES. I’m really good at making excuses.

This past December when I saw a post pop up in my reader that she was offering it again, I clicked through. I stared at it. I came back to it. The first paragraph on the home page drew me in:

You want to write, but you don't have the time.
You want to write, but you're afraid you have nothing to say.
You think about how much you used to love writing, and it makes you sad.
You want to write, but you're too old or you're not educated enough, or... or something.
You want to write, but you're scared.

I found myself in each of those things. And then she quoted the Richard Rhodes quote that I quoted not long ago and I decided it was probably fate. It was very, hauntingly similar to my experience with Bloggers in Sin City. I watched my first opportunity come and go, decided that I was unfit for the experience and I couldn’t really afford it anyway. It came back around again and finally I told myself to just DO IT ALREADY, so I took the same deep breath that I took in January of 2011 and clicked the button and signed up. For all the ways that BiSC has changed me and changed my life, I really don’t know why I don’t take chances like this more often. I’ve seen how good they are for me. I’ve seen how quickly the fear dissipates into something meaningful.

The course officially started on January 14 and I’ve already noticed a difference. I’m blocking out a space of time each night to write, even if I’m tired, even if I don’t feel like it. Some of the prompts have made me feel silly and awkward, but once my pen starts moving on the paper (we’ve been instructed to write it all longhand), those feelings fade and there I am, writing. Oftentimes, the prescribed fifteen minutes turns into forty-five, and by that point I’m usually ready to grab a book or open my laptop and work on my story, but unfortunately it’s usually late and my logical brainparts are like, “dude, you need to sleep” so I get all huffy and go to sleep. But it feels great. My friend Maria sent me a link to a workshop being held at our alma mater, a creative writing workshop/class, something that would have absolutely terrified me a month ago. People READING my creative writing? This blog is one thing, but when it comes to, say, fiction, I get weirdly self-conscious about it. But you know what? I’m strongly considering it. I’m not sure it’s a great idea to do two of these courses at once, and I’d have to miss the first class because I’ll be out of town for work (and my straight-A student style is absolutely CRINGING at the idea of missing the first class, I mean, hello, that just SCREAMS “starting off on the wrong foot”), but... I don’t know, guys. Alice has gotten me into the practice of writing (see what I did there) and each day I feel a little bit stronger and a little bit more confident. I may actually do this thing.

1 comment:

Kelly L said...

yay! I'm really glad you're taking that class. It sounds like something I would have enjoyed too, but looks like you can no longer sign up.

I hate "practice makes perfect" but as you mentioned, practicing does help you flex the muscles and strengthen them. Obviously, I can't go run a half marathon tomorrow, but if I practice running a few times a week, I might be able to run one in a month or so. Just like if you want to write a novel, you can't write one by writing a blog post every once in a while. Practice.

Also we should have a terrible, terrible flute/clarinet duet sometime soon.