I received a very cool gift today from my blogger friend Deirdre – it’s a vintage (circa 1979) chapbook from The Writer’s Chapbook Series, entitled Talking About Writing, written by Ursula LeGuin. Ms. LeGuin is probably best known as a science fiction writer, but she has quite a dry wit and humor, which is in evidence throughout this engaging little booklet.
“People come up to you if you’re a writer,” she starts out, “and they say, I want to be a writer. How do I become a writer? I have a two stage answer for this,” she continues. The first stage answer to this question is: You learn to type.”
This reminded me instantly of an old chestnut musicians hear a lot: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!
It’s really a very basic truth for a musician, and I don’t know why as a writer, I don’t think the same way. Because the second stage of Ms. LeGuin’s answer to the question of “How do I become a writer?” was: Write.
I’ve had writing dreams and inclinations for most of my life~they’ve run side by side with my music inclinations, although I’ve “done” more music than writing over the past 50 some odd years. But for every performance, every concert, every competition, even every rehearsal, I’ve done probably three times as much practicing in preparation. I would never think of going out onto a stage without practice, practice, practice. And not just of the pieces I’ll be performing. Practice for a musician involves all kinds of other things – like scales and arpeggios for the fluidity in the fingers and wrists, Czerny and Hanon for speed and flexibility, practicing the piece with hands apart, or starting from the back and working your way forward… in other words, we come at a piece of music from all sorts of angles in order to get it up to performance quality.
Why not do the same with writing? Somewhere in the back of my mind lurks this notion that you don’t sit down to the page unless you’ve got a nearly finished product at least stored in your head. You don’t bother writing something unless it’s going to be published, or, at the very least, submitted to something. Why write if it’s not going to be read?
For the same reasons I sit at the piano all those hours. Because it takes practice to perfect the craft. Your fingers get stronger, your ear becomes more sensitive to what the composer is trying to say. The more you write, the better your facility with words, with putting sentences together, with description, with ideas…you get the picture.
And “practice” shouldn’t be a dirty word. My mother always bragged to other parents that she never had to “make” me practice the piano, and it’s true. I loved practicing – I loved playing, which is they way I thought of it.
Since I’ve been blogging, and doing morning pages, I’ve started thinking of writing as a “practice” in the way people speak of yoga or meditation as a practice – a habit that enriches your life spiritually, intellectually, physically, and emotionally. I enjoy playing around with words, so I do more of it. I study the craft of writing, I take apart my sentences and re-arrange them for the fun of it, I sit with a dictionary or thesaurus looking for better words to use. And I do all this with no objective other than to enrich myself and improve my ability.
How about you? Do you practice writing? do you consider your writing a “practice” in your life?