[KABP] The Problem of Practice

The problem with telling people that you write is that they immediately ask unhelpful questions like “have you been published” or “when are we going to see that bestseller, then?” or “have you written anything I might have read?”

They mean to be supportive. They mean to show that they think it’s cool and exciting that you are a teller of tales. But the from the next-door and much-more-foul spawning ground that produces the inner editor, comes the inner critic, who stores up all these comments and replays them to you as criticism that you haven’t done enough fast enough and in who, in so doing, slams the brakes on all your progress. You know you’re not good enough yet, and these people, pushing you onto the stage before you’re ready, can cause a crippling case of stage fright. Don’t let them.

It’s All About Potential

As an adult if you tell people that you play piano or do gymnastics, they just raise their eyebrows and say ‘oh, that’s nice’ and assume it’s a harmless hobby that you do when you’re not doing your ‘real’ job. They might even envy you the time you somehow manage to carve out to keep up these interests.

When you’re a kid, though, tell anyone that you play an instrument or are working on the uneven bars and they immediately start asking you questions about when you’re going to play Carnegie Hall or how long until they see you in the Olympics. Of course, as a kid, all you really want to do is play a piece of music that’s got under your skin and experience the thrill of tumbling through the air. You know how to appreciate that moment when everything comes together and the practice starts to pay off. No kid ever grimly practices tumbles thinking ‘this is for Olympic glory’. Not until some grown-up goes and says the awful words, that is.

At the start of your journey other people see not the joy of creation, but practical potential. It’s a good thing. It’s a great thing. We should think ‘what if?’

-What if I took this seriously?
-What if I shared my stories and other people like them?
-What if I was wildly successful and one of those people in the top 5% of my field?

Wouldn’t that be cool?

Yes. It would. No doubt.

But what if you’re not there yet, not close?

Is it OK to keep practising?
Is it fair to take time away from family and friends to pursue your love of the written word?
Is it right to keep writing even you’re not publishing?

You betcha!

Much as no-one but a parent really wants to sit through a recital of piano classics played by incompetent seven year olds, and no-one but a coach can see the value in watching tiny children fall off the balance beam and dissolve into tears, no-one really wants to read your terrible, stumbling first attempts at stories, with their flat, croaking characters and their plotless meanderings.

But we still have to write them.

The only way to become better at writing is to write. The only way to write good stories is to write bad ones.

And there are, in fact, people out there who are willing, like parents at a recital and scouts at a gymnastics meet, to take your stumbling, fumbling duckling efforts and help you practice, and practice and practice until you become a graceful swan of a writer. They are called ‘your fellow writers’ and later, your editors. Seek them out. Befriend them. Be kind to each other.

And above all, keep writing.