By Dr. Diana Stout
When a baby goes from crawling to walking to running, rarely does she do it in a day. It’s a process of practicing over a number of days, sometimes weeks.
First, she learns to stand by hoisting herself up while clinging to something sturdy. Then, she takes a step or two around the object, all the while grasping it.
Then, she graduates to holding onto a baby walker or some other object that moves as she steps. Even as this new toddler takes her first steps without aid, she’ll fall on her behind once or twice before crossing the entire room successfully.
Is that failure? Not at all. It’s progress. It’s learning. We cheer at her success and ignore the falls. She’s practicing. In time, she’ll be running. All because of repeated practice attempts.
It’s the same process when learning to play any sport, musical instrument, or learning a craft like sewing, welding, or cooking. No one is a master on the first day. The process of learning creates muscle and mind memory, often requiring a mentor, teacher, or a master of that skill. And, more importantly, a cheerleader!
So, why is it when writers receive a critique, get rejected, or don’t know certain grammar rules, they feel like failures? That they’re not good enough? Why do they call critiquers mean? That the publishers aren’t making good decisions? Why is the self-talk so destructive?
Have you ever considered that you might not be practiced enough? That the critiquers aren’t being mean, but that they’re providing you truth and that there’s still more learning to do? Or, that you’re learning from others who might not be qualified enough for you to grow? That you haven’t found your best cheerleader?
Like any new skill being learned, the amount of time spent practicing, the type of practicing performed, and who you practice with determine how fast the skills are mastered.
So, you may be asking yourself: how can I practice more? I’ve got a full-time job and children at home, or I’m home all day as a caregiver with little time as my own. I have no money to spend on classes and conferences.
Answer: Any writing or writing related task you do is practicing. It’s about finding places you can plug writing into that works for you, where writing becomes more of a priority than it might be right now.
Whether you’re writing a first draft—which should be the messiest of all drafts—or are editing or proofing a final draft, it’s all practice.
One important lesson I learned was to stop comparing my progress to other writers. My process and progress are my path, and no two writers’ paths look the same. So, I could see my progress, I learned to chart it, to record hours spent.
Here are other things I did and still do to increase my practice time, some of which might work for you:
When I had day jobs and was raising a family, I had little writing time. Back then, I wrote in mere minutes: at stoplights, airports, while eating lunch, in waiting rooms, even while standing in line during the holidays. Surprisingly, the busier I was, the more writing I got done.
I carried a piece of my work everywhere: pages that needed editing, a beta read I was doing, writing a character journal, or dictating the dialogue for a scene. Small chunks of work that didn’t require deep thinking are perfect for writing in moments.
Today, I carry my Kindle everywhere. If nothing else, I can read how-to books. When editing, I email my final manuscript to my Kindle, where I can read it like a regular book, highlight errors and make notes, and then send those highlights to my email.
There came a point where I had far too many other activities that swallowed up my free time: quilting, sewing, painting, socializing, clubs, volunteer work, family tree history, etc.
To determine which activity I’d rather be doing, I made a list, then compared two activities at a time, choosing one and crossing off the other. By the end of the comparison, writing came out as the winner.
Today, I still partake in other activities because I can’t write 24/7, but those activities occur after I’ve practiced writing each day.
I made writing a priority.
One thing I learned over time is that when I had a deadline, I wrote faster. Writing sprints can function as mini deadlines. Using a timer, write for 15 minutes with no editing allowed. Stream of consciousness writing only. I found it a great way to start a project or a scene I was dreading. The time allotted becomes a mind dump for getting the idea(s) on paper, which can be edited later.
Even if all you do is write 5-15 minutes a day, it’s practice! And, you’re creating a habit. After a while, you’ll crave those 15 minutes.
Every day for three hours a day, I meet with a small group of writers in Zoom. We chat for about five minutes at the top of the hour, then mute our microphones and hide our screens, while we write. At the top of the hour, we meet again, state how successful we were in that hour, and then repeat twice more.
That’s not to say that we don’t go down rabbit holes, because we do. It happens. We laugh, and then try again in the next hour. These write-ins are about accountability.
Several participants, myself included, have said that without these write-ins, we wouldn’t be writing as much as we are. Accountability works, even if it’s only a couple times a week.
Twice a year, I participate in a weekend write-in, where we rent a home originally meant for quilters with long tables. We usually have 8-10 participants. At the last write-in, another writer and I plotted out seven books—four of mine and three of hers.
Other times, I’ve written first drafts, outlined, or edited. My current or upcoming projects dictate what I take to the write-in.
Growing your writing skills involves more than putting new words on paper. It’s finding a balance of learning and practicing. Various things I do:
The more practice you achieve, the quicker you’ll master the craft, the skill of writing.
And, even after having achieved master status, I’m still learning and require practice. Ask any musician or any athlete; they’ll tell you the same thing:
What is your favorite writing practice?
* * * * * *
Dr. Diana Stout just finished teaching her Grammar and Punctuation Made Easy class, where participates said that she had sharpened their skills and made grammar easier, where they excitedly provided examples of their rewrites, showcasing their learning.
With the recent publication of her Gothic historical novelette, Harbor House: Say You Will in the Unlock My Heartanthology she is practicing writing as she crafts on the sequel, Harbor House: Last Blood, a psychological thriller novel, where the story continues one-hundred years later.
To learn more about her work, visit her website: https//sharpenedpencilsproductions.com.
Copyright © 2024 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved