June 30, 2010

Varieties of Practicing–Part One: Slog

Posted in Practice Writing tagged , at 9:05 am by Rebecca Hein

In music I was trained to work in a straight line from one skill to the next. It was considered unsound practice to jump from one technique to another because this would scatter my attention and thus my efforts.

So I learned sequentially, and over time I came to believe in the process of racheting up my ability, step by step. It was tedious, but I accepted this simply because I didn’t know any better.

After more than twenty years of linear effort, I finally discovered a better way, a procedure much more compatible with creativity, not just in music, but in writing as well.

Next: Experiments

June 23, 2010

Save Time with Practice Writing

Posted in Practice Writing tagged , , at 9:45 am by Rebecca Hein

I began practice writing a number of months ago, and have been delighted to discover how much time it saves. In the years before I established this habit, my writing routine was difficult: I labored to produce the best work I could, and waded through so many drafts that I lost count.

All that effort was necessary because I wanted my pieces to be as organized as possible. My rewrites helped me achieve this order.

But my ideas, in raw form, never arrive in proper sequence. Wild disarray is my style, and in practice writing I indulge this tendency to the full.

You will recall from previous posts that practice writing is free, unedited, and private. Nobody, including you, gets to criticize these exercises or even evaluate them. The goal is flow.

So in my practicing, I choose a topic or section from a piece I’m having trouble with. For twenty to thirty minutes I wander through the problem, paying no attention to order, coherence, or quality. After several days I begin to sense my readiness to tackle the piece directly, and then I discover how easy it is to arrange my ideas.

The right words and phrases tumble out of me with nearly the same freedom that characterizes practice. I craft a good revision in half the usual time or, if I’ve chosen to practice extensively on a piece before I try to compose it at all, I generate a first draft that is nearly usable.

The key is freedom and following your own quirks first. Permit this primary urge its full expression and wait for what happens next.

Next: Varieties of Practicing.

June 16, 2010

What is Practice Writing?

Posted in Practice Writing tagged , , at 9:27 am by Rebecca Hein

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg states, “You have to
give yourself the space to write a lot without a destination.” This is a
perfect description of the ideal state of mind for practice writing.

As in music, writing practice is for nobody’s ears but yours.
Thus you don’t need to worry about offending anyone, writing unclear
sentences, wandering at random through your mind, or any of the other
inhibitions that plague you when you start on a “real piece.” But practice
writing accomplishes more than just freeing our minds and switching off the internal critic: it saves time.

Next: How I’ve saved myself hours through practice writing.

June 8, 2010

Writing as Practice

Posted in Practice Writing tagged at 2:30 pm by Rebecca Hein

Writers write; musicians practice. What’s the difference? Simply that writers expect readable copy, whereas musicians understand that the majority of their time must be spent on building skills, not on performance.

For every hour of performance, the musician must invest many hours, even to prepare a short, simple piece for a student recital. This lopsided ratio of private work to public display continues throughout the musician’s development, gradually shifting toward more performance.

To a writer, practice exercises such as freewriting are “not our real work.” Therefore we neglect this most important part of our routine, and fail to develop a habit that can save us hours, not just over time, but within weeks or less.

Next: What is practice writing?