“Practices makes perfect” is a phrase I have never enjoyed.
There is no such thing as perfection. Perfection is unattainable. Even our notions of success are as varied as the stories we tell and the styles we employ to tell them.
I prefer, “practice makes better.” But encountering the phrase does make me consider what it means to practice something, and how we can apply that consideration to our writing lives.
If you look at the actual Oxford definition of the word “practice,” it is both a noun and a verb:
Noun: “the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it; the customary, habitual, or expected procedure or way of doing of something”
Verb: “perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one's proficiency; carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly”
The common denominators in both definitions are: 1) do the thing, and 2) do the thing on a regular basis.
Talking about writing, wanting to write, thinking about writing, outlining a writing project, jotting down story ideas—these are not actually part of a writing practice until and unless you are actually writing. If you are writing, all those other activities count as part of the process; if you are not writing, they are at best holding space for your next project, and at worst an exercise in avoidance.
To start, grow, and maintain a writing practice, you have to actually practice, and understand what practice means.
Practice means repeating an activity.
Doing something one time is just doing something; repeating it is what constitutes practice. If you write today, that’s great. But writing tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that? Now you are building a writing practice. How often you write is up to you. The key is creating some kind of regularity, whether that means daily journaling or weekly exchanges of work with other writers. Whatever routine your unique schedule supports for your writing, stick to it to build your practice.
Practice means focusing on both strengths and weaknesses.
Doing only what comes easily to you will probably not lead to growth. Focusing only on your weaknesses might erode your confidence and resolve to keep going. In addition to regularity, your writing practice also requires balance. Think about what you are best at in terms of writing, and also what eludes or intimidates you, or what you have struggled with in the past. As you begin to write with more regularity, try to set goals that will help turn your weaknesses into strengths, and your strengths into super strengths.
Practice means setting goals.
A writing practice—a practice of any kind—is about creating structure with goals. What do you want to accomplish through writing? Do you write to understand yourself or the world around you, and intend to keep your writing private? Or do you want to share and connect with others, and seek to publish your writing someday? Or are you somewhere in between? Consider where you are and where you want to go, and set goals to make your practice productive.
Practice means challenging yourself.
Part of your goal-setting should, at some point, include pushing yourself beyond what you might believe you are capable of achieving. If writing 10,000 words in a single day feels impossible to you, but you are on a roll lately and think you might be able to come close, set a goal of 10,000 words. You might hit six, seven, or eight thousand, or you might reach 10,000! Either way, you practiced hard and more than you might have if you had set a “safe” goal. Know your limits, but push against them once in a while.
Practice means taking care of yourself so you can keep practicing.
That said, when you inevitably push beyond your limits and either fall short or stress yourself out, it helps to know when to rest. Pay attention to how your body and mind feel when you finish a writing session. If you are energized and still feel creative, consider whether you have time to keep going. If you are mentally and emotionally exhausted, maybe you pushed yourself too far. Whatever you do to rejuvenate after stressful, non-writing activities—a bath, a good book, a walk outside—might also help you recover from a difficult round of wrangling words. Take good care and live to write another day!
What does a writing practice mean to you? What was the most helpful piece of advice you read in this post? Share with us in the comments.
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