Tag Archives: practice

Practice Makes Perfect

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…

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Me in Paris during study abroad.

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.

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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?

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Opening the Door to Criticism

Back when I was in high school and was still very involved in music, I remember the terror of upcoming performances. A school orchestra concert was fine, but it was the solo moments of performing that always terrified me. It was the recitals, auditions, festivals, competitions, and all that jazz that had me a nervous quaking mess.

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My trophy for six years of consecutive excellent ratings in the Certificate of Merit festival

After failing one audition my senior year, I had a long talk with my private violin teacher where I lamented how my nervousness had destroyed me, even though I’d been very well prepared. Her advice to me is something I’ve never forgotten.

Practice regularly in front of other people, she said. Sit down and make your family and your friends and other people listen to you over and over and over again. And you’ll start to get over some of the jitters. The best thing you can do is practice.

I took her advice for my next piano festival, pulling a few friends aside after class to make them sit in a practice room with me while I played my pieces for them. And it really did seem to help in some respects.

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Me at my violin recital

What I’d never considered before this year, was doing the same thing with writing and the thing I feared above all else: criticism.

I am a sensitive person. I hate hearing negative things, whether about myself or my writing or something else entirely. I just don’t take it well. At all. But the thing is, this last year I decided to do a novel for my senior thesis project. I knew that would involve regular checkups with my professors who would end up reading my works and looking at them critically. I was understandably nervous.

And yes, my first few meetings with my advisors were rough. I was embarrassed and extremely jittery. What I found, however, was that the more I practiced giving my works to others, the easier it became.

I had to do a writing group for one of my classes, I was taking a fiction writing class at the time constantly putting short stories in front of my peers, I sent out a plea on Facebook for readers and gave a few drafts to different friends.

Now, I won’t just pretend I can now hand over a manuscript with absolutely no fear, but I certainly stopped hesitating in hitting a send button to send a section to someone. I stopped having to do three edits before being brave enough to give my work away. I started feeling less hurt every time someone told me something I needed to change or suggested I do a rewrite.

Constructive-Criticism

I think my violin teacher really hit home with the basic concept. The more you get used to something that seems intimidating and difficult, the less scary it becomes. Normalizing and immersing yourself in a fear can help you adjust to it.

So my advice for being more open to criticism may seem a little odd, but the best thing you can do to is to take more of it. Keep giving your work out to people. Keep working on being more open to feedback and realizing it’s helpful. Keep being brave and testing yourself. But also keep recognizing the small victories for what they are. It isn’t easy sharing with others, nor is it easy facing potential negative feedback or more critical points, but like any good thing in life, practice makes perfect.

Here are just a few ideas: join a writing group, put up a Facebook post asking for readers, ask a friend, find an online writing community, ask a mentor, teacher, or professor (for students especially), find a website to post works on, try posting sections of your work on a blog, and just keep an eye out for opportunities to submit works to different places or give it to further readers.

How do you deal with criticism? What methods do you use to be brave? How do you choose who gets to read your work? Just a few good questions to get some conversations rolling. Let me know your thoughts!

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No Rest for the Writer

As I’ve been spending the summer working and vacationing it has been interesting to try to find the time to write. In terms of this blog I have been failing at keeping up. Thankfully, in terms of writing for myself I have not.

One of the interesting aspects of the life of a writer is discovering a balance between working and relaxing. So often I’ve heard published authors say their dedication to writing is a daily practice and that they are diligent in pursuing their craft every single day. Of course, on the other hand I’ve discovered that the task can be tiresome and also have found other problems alongside.

On vacation I almost always take my laptop, or if not I take some paper. I do try my best to find the time to write even when I’m not in my normal schedule, but I’m beginning to wonder if this is the right idea. Is there no time that should be a break from writing? Should it be a constant pursuit.

Below is a picture of me typing on my laptop by the pool. At the time it seemed important to get one more chapter finished, but looking back I wonder if I should have spent more time enjoying the moment.

What is your opinion on this tricky puzzle? Should a writer take time to rest, or should they make sure to practice each and every day? I have yet to find a real solution, but I look forward to hearing what you have to say. In short, how much work is too much work?

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