Monday, July 14, 2014

Do Writers Practice Their Art?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I spent the weekend at the Turner Cassity Literary Festival in Douglasville, GA, teaching a workshop on world building (A great writers’ festival, by the way, so look for it next year). Friday night, keynote speaker Stephen Corey said something—I believe he was quoting Marshall Thomas—that really stuck with me.

Other artists practice their art—musicians, dancers, painters—but what about writers? Do we practice or are we always “just writing?”

I can’t tell you the last time I wrote something that didn’t have a specific purpose. I'm either writing an article for the site, a writing book, or a novel, and the intent is always to share it or sell it.

Looking around at my fellow writers, practice seems to come in just two flavors: writing prompts found online or during workshops, and our early work before we’re confident enough to submit to anyone or try to sell/publish it. “Oh this?” we say. “It’s just my “practice” novel.”

(Here are more thoughts on getting back to basics in our writing)

Professional dancers still practice even when they make it to the stage. So do musicians. I guess fine artists are closer to writers, as they practice their art as they create it. Every project is practice, yet every project is also real.

I can’t help but wonder how that might affect us as artists. Does it put pressure on writers to always strive for the professional manuscript? To feel that everything we write has to be publishable? That we must turn every project into a saleable project?

(Here are more thoughts on writing as an art form)

The idea of writing a whole novel I won’t try to sell is foreign to me, but it didn’t used to be. I used to write knowing it was a practice novel for me to develop my skills. Not anymore.

I suppose a first draft could be considered practice, and the revisions are the real “writing,” but that doesn’t fit the notion of what practicing is. Even when we know that first draft will be rough, we still plan to do something will it. We didn’t write it just to sharpen our writing skills.

Or is that the key?

Every sentence we write helps us make the next sentence better. Every chapter develops our skills so the next story reads smoother. Every story makes us ponder how the world might come together so we can reach deeper and find the emotional truths we want to share.

Maybe writing is always practice because the journey never ends.

What do you guys think? Do writers practice? Should they? Or is there a point when practice becomes the art?

Looking for tips on planning and writing your novel? Check out my book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions! 

Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.

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  1. My niece is a dancer and she practices every day. She does so to stay on top of her game. When she is not physically practicing, she is visualizing. Her eventual performance then is close to perfection. As a writer I practice every day whether it be blog writing, penning the next great novel I'm sure will find a home, or the less frequent - writing off a prompt for practice. I also visualize scenes to try and make them work better. The end product is different but through necessary practice both the dancer and writer can make an emotional connection with their audience. That to me is the artistic payoff.

  2. I see the writing as the practice - the "presentation" would be the publishing of the practice. So in my opinion, we are always practicing as we write. Not all practice will lead to a presentation, if we're at the beginning and not ready to publish. All that dancing practice goes toward the eventual recital. All the writing practice goes to eventually publishing. That's the way I see the relationship between the two.

  3. I'm an artist and musician as well as a writer, so I think I have a good idea what "practice" is. Basically, you're talking about the difference between the visual and performing arts.

    Performance art requires physical skills that must be practiced until they come subconsciously (or nearly so). Because they're physical, the skills will be lost if they're not constantly honed. The practice with visual art comes as one creates. The more you paint (or write), the sharper your skills become.

    There is, of course, a learning curve for all art. Our first drawings are rarely anything anyone other than our parents would want to exhibit, and there's no question that a beginner's first scrape of a bow over strings is cringe-inducing. If you're anything like most writers, your work improves over time.

    Every time we consciously think about what we write (as opposed to just tweeting the first thought in our heads) we are practicing. The performance is when we share what we've written with an audience.

    1. That's a very intriguing view on practice for writers. I've never seen it compared to a "performance" before. Thanks!

  4. It's funny you posted this. Not too long ago, I realized how I haven't "practiced" writing. I've been busy reading books. And writing them. And editing them. Do I pause the reading, writing, and editing for practice? Or is all that work truly practice?

    1. Maybe it's practice while we're still learning, then it's just a matter of getting the story right every time? I suppose it could depend on each writers' definition of practice.

  5. Julie you must be granted a pass.... I know I never stop practicing my photography. If I am not learning a new way to do something I am learning a new way to teach.... Great article, see this here is writin practice.