Practice Makes Perfect

Writer’s Tip#2

It’s no secret that running every morning, taking time at the ball field to swing or pitch, playing scales on a piano, riffing through chords on a guitar, or well, any skill that requires physical coordination, improves with practice. But practice writing? Not just writing and revising a project, but actually just writing for the sake of practice?

I had the first ten pages of my current project critiqued by Eric Witchey ( I have to give a plug for his critique service. I’ve not had a review of my work done more professionally and thoroughly, ever. Worth every penny and then some. I gleaned several tips and recommendations but one that surprised me was to practice writing techniques.

I’m not very good at casual writing. My current project started with the intention of writing a short story to enter in a contest so I could build credits. I don’t how it turned into a novel except that I couldn’t stop writing my character’s lives. There was more to tell than a few thousand words.

So how does a novel writing addict reign it in and just ‘practice’ creating characters and scenes? Before I answer that question, I need to mention that studying characters by putting them into the same situation and writing the scene of how each would respond is a tool I have truly enjoyed. There’s no separation anxiety with that exercise. The characters are on my stage and I’ve got a plan for them.

Back to the question, how to practice without engaging the passion of a project. I found a way by accident. I’ve been known to wander through flea markets with tables piled high with junk, true junk. Chipped coffee cups, mustard yellow electric can openers, rusted adjustable wrenches frozen a quarter inch open, five crock pots in a row and then, if I’m lucky, I’ll find the mother lode, a dirty, ragged cardboard box of books.

Last time this happened, I plucked out three, would have been ten but my husband was hovering nearby and although he would say nothing if I bought ten, he would have shook his head all the way home and mutter ‘you don’t have time to read all those…”.

One of the books I bought was “The Gazebo” by Patricia Wentworth, a British author. I started reading it in the car on the way home from the flea market. The set-up of the story was stellar. Then it hit me. I’ve only read the first thirty or so pages. I’ve met the main characters, but I don’t know exactly what they’re going to do. Why not practice with these? Write them into the scenes I think will happen. I don’t have any other connection to this story except my entertainment.

So, that’s the tip I received and the way to make it work. Pick up a book. Read the first thirty pages or so then play with someone else’s kids. Write on! The world awaits your voice.

Didn’t Expect That

Have you ever watched a show with funny video clips like “America’s Funniest Home Videos”? If not, picture these scenes and guess what comes after the first few seconds of footage:

  • A man is vaulting through the air toward a horse, arms stretched
  • A teenager starts down the handrail of a flight of concrete stairs on a skateboard
  • A grandma dressed to the nines with a plaid skirt, bleach white top and sneakers, raises a golf club

Did you guess that in all three scenes, the unexpected happened? The man does not make it onto the horse, he misses and lands in manure. The teenager slides off the handrail and saves himself in a somersault. The grandma raises the golf club and swings like her life depends on it, does a couple of spins only to find the ball hasn’t moved.

What do all these instances have in common? Someone is trying very hard to go beyond the typical, pushing themselves to do the amazing. I’ve noticed in these video clips that when people really want to do something and believe they can do it, they put it all out there. Though that is oddly (dare I say uncomfortably?) the source of the humor. Watching a person focus like a pro and then fail tickles the funny bone. Still, a person that intends to jump on a horse from behind must leap with all his strength. Same for doing a crazy stunt on a skateboard or swinging a golf club at eighty years old.

All these funny video clips chronicle the diehard spirit of humans to give whatever they truly want to do, the best shot ever. It’s inspiring. That is exactly my point. Be inspired. People make themselves the brunt of a ten second joke that at best might win them a T-shirt from a television show. They do it again and again because if it’s worth trying, it’s worth risking failure, even laughter, even the mocking of a gaggle of naysayers that seem to be at the periphery of everyone’s lives.

So put your all into whatever project you’re working on. Don’t worry about if you’re the right stuff or not. You are part of a community of people who jump high, slide fearlessly and swing like champions.

That’s something to be proud of.