So one of the things I’m doing this summer is teaching an older couple in my neighborhood French. They’re both incredibly sweet people, and have done quite well all things considered. One of them has never learned French before, and the other learned it in high school and has since forgotten most everything he learned.
I think one of the biggest problems for myself is that I’m finding my own rustiness the more I try to teach them. I’ll look back through my lessons later and realize how badly I messed up a simple conjugation, or they’ll ask for clarification on pronunciation and I’ll realize I pronounced something wrong. And it’s extremely frustrating after all the time and effort I’ve put into learning a language. But the thing is I haven’t been using all that much French, so in a lot of ways it makes sense I’m not up to where I used to be. It’s not unlike me pulling out my violin after a year without touching it and trying to play again. Let’s just say that didn’t go so well either…
The same idea applies to writing, at least for me. If I don’t use my writing skills they rust up, it stops feeling natural. And it’s the reason I’ve been continuing to participate in Writing Challenges on twitter where I have to write 500 words a day. Not only is it a great way to make friends with fellow writers, but it’s been a way to keep myself diligent and keep my writing skills from getting rusty.
Last month I wrote a total of 60,000 words. And yes I now know I probably could do NaNoWriMo if I wanted to. But the one problem is that most of what I was writing isn’t something I’d publish. I’ve been dinking around playing with different story ideas that I don’t consider in any way worthy of publishing. I haven’t really touched my novel I was working on since I graduated. And sometimes I feel ashamed that I’m not working on something more important or worthwhile.
But the truth is that those words still count. Every one of them counts. Maybe they aren’t going towards the next great American novel, but they’re going towards continuing to make me a better writer. They’re going towards creating confidence in myself and my abilities. They’re going towards continuing to practice and perfect the craft I love so well.
So this is my encouragement for language learners, musicians, writers, or anyone else who is doing something that requires some level of practice to continue to function: set small goals for yourself. You might not be able to go to a foreign country and immerse yourself, but pick up a movie in the language and watch that. I like taking my French Bible to church with me and using that as a once a week tool. For an instrument, try to set a certain number of practice days a week for an instrument or join a group that will keep you going. And for writing tell yourself to write a certain amount. Maybe that’ll be a hundred words a day. Maybe a weekly goal of 500 words is more up your alley. Or maybe just have a goal to finish a chapter or short story by a certain date. Find what you’re comfortable with and set that as your goal. But find ways to continue practicing.
That doesn’t mean you have to remove the fun element either, and recognizing the usefulness of moments that aren’t professional but help you practice are great. Take joy in those moments you get together with a few friends who also play instruments and jam just for fun, even if you’re not making money performing. Or enjoy just reading a blog in another language, even if you’re not off translating for someone important. Or simply realize that writing for fun has its uses too, even if it’s not something you’ll publish. Each word you write keeps you practiced and ready to continue writing when more important occasions should arise.
What goals do you set for yourself? Do you feel like writing for fun is still useful? How do you keep in practice with writing or other activities you might do? Have you had times you’ve felt rusty at something you once were good at?