Too Good for Practice?

This is a guest post written by A.P. Stayberg.

As the basketball hall of famer and NBA icon Allen Iverson, once said, “We talkin’ ‘bout practice? It’s important, but we talkin’ ‘bout practice, man.” Yes, Allen, we are talking about practice, and, it’s a good thing, too. 

Practice

Everyone knows the old saying, practice makes perfect. Or the amended saying, perfect practice makes perfect. Whether you behold yourself to either ideology, or if you’re a hall of famer like our friend Mr. Iverson, the same holds true: no one is too good for practice. This holds especially true for writing. No one is born an excellent writer. You might have been blessed with a proclivity for weaving words, storytelling, or the ability to elucidate your imagination in an intriguing way. However, being able to take all of that and turn out a five hundred page bestseller is an entirely different thing. Don’t believe me? Try sitting in front of your computer to write a book for the first time, without some form of practice, and take it to a publisher as soon as you finish.  

All the greats, in every genre, practiced. Some of my favorites: Tolkien, Rothfuss, Martin, and Herbert—just to name a few, all practiced. Tolkien took twelve years to finish Lord of the Rings and it took another six after that to get published. Frank Herbert took over seven years to write Dune and worked at several newspapers beforehand. Patrick Rothfuss actually taught writing at a university. George R.R. Martin got his masters from Northwestern school of journalism, which is one of the most highly touted in the discipline. During this time they were learning the art of writing. Of course they might have been going about in different ways, but accomplishing the same thing—perfecting their craft, their prose. Whether through rewriting, reviewing, editing, studying, teaching others, or writing about actual events, unbeknownst or known to them—they were practicing for their masterpieces.

Related Post: How Deliberate Practice Can Lead to Success

I say all this not to lecture or point my self-righteous finger at someone, but I say it to eliminate the false narrative: that the true writer, on first attempt without prior preparation and acting on mere inspiration alone, can pick up a pen or sit at their computer and spill out a greatness. Inspiration is real, a writing “zone” or whatever term you care to use is real, but I have never spoken with, read about, or heard rumor of someone being able to spill out genius on a page without practicing first or editing like crazy afterward. I, unfortunately, believed this lie of the “true writer” when I set out to write my first book.

It wasn’t arrogance, more ignorance that made me believe I could simply sit down and bang out something great. In my defense, I did go to a writer’s workshop regularly and get feedback, which was extremely helpful and painful at the same time. I read all the books I could about developing characters, active/passive voice, crafting a great story, telling versus showing, elements of style, and several others. A friend, who’s a literary professor, even read through my first draft and gave me a litany of notes. All of these things helped me, but the thing that helped the most was writing more . . . and more . . . and more.

While working with my editor, the owner of this blog, I had time to start writing other stories while she reviewed my book. I started by composing a couple fan fiction stories. They were over fifty pages each and I had planned out both stories in two separate genres. I edited them like it was my own original content and wrote every day. When my editor came back with my book and I sat down to implement her corrections as well as see where I needed to bolster the work, an amazing thing had happened—I was a much better writer than when I started. Leaps and bounds better to be precise. Through writing the fan fiction, as well as completing the book and editing it myself, I had passed an invisible ceiling. I was given a new pair of glasses. I achieved an awareness where I could see my work more objectively, spill out more talented sentences on the first attempt, frame up exactly what I was trying to accomplish with a scene, chapter, character, and the overall book itself. The catalyst for all this was the writing of the fan fiction stories and in simpler terms—practice.

My suggestion to you is if you have an idea that you truly love and want to see it become everything you imagine it in your head to be, then first practice your arse off not on that idea, but something else that interests you. Get your mistakes and peccadillos out on something that you won’t be crushed by if it is a failure. Tell a short story that occurs in the same fictional world you are creating, write about a true event with a twist, or pick an already created universe like Star Wars, Avengers, whatever, and write a fan fiction piece. Then after you’ve done a few of these start on the prized novel and wow the world with your ideas.   

A.P. Stayberg is the author of Dego, the Earth Mover (coming soon) and the Prima Earth Chronicles. You can read his short stories and connect with him at apstayberg.com.

 

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