The Primacy of Practice

I just started reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga last week. I started with Shards of Honor which is, as far as I can tell, her first published book. Bujold is a new addition to my lineup of sci-fi/fantasy storycrafter heroes, but her Sharing Knife series knocked my socks off, as did the fact that she has a damn fine record with Hugo and Nebula awards.

As a yet-to-be-published writer, I found a few things comforting about Shards of Honor:

  1. It’s not great. I mean, it’s decent for a first book, but it’s nothing stellar compared to other work of hers I’ve read.
  2. It was only accepted for publication on the strength of the second novel in the series.
  3. She was older than I am by the time she was first published.

I don’t know about the rest of you writers out there, but I thinking being a bookworm who enjoys words as a kid means that adults tend to express high expectations for your early success. I went through a weird paralyzed phase after college when I realized that I had missed the deadline to write a beloved fantasy staple by the age of 18 and I let that bizarre disappointment in myself at not being a child prodigy slow my writing down for WAY too long. The past few weeks have been a good source of inspiration for the process of outgrowing that unreasonable expectation.

It started with a conversation about writing with my friend Jennifer. We’ve both had the realization that there are some stories we have to tell that we don’t have the life experience and perspective to do justice to yet…which I don’t think is quite possible to grasp when you’re so young that you aren’t capable of realizing how much perspective time is able to give you on a situation. Standing on the edge of thirty, I am only just now beginning to get a sliver of a glimpse of the potential time has for improving my ability to see what makes a story worth telling. Makes me excited to see what I manage to write when I get old. : )

The inspiration continued in a friend reminding me of the quote from Ira Glass talking about the creative process. His main point? It takes time, and more importantly, PRACTICE…a point which Chuck Wendig reinforced for me vividly with his recent blog post about writing ESPECIALLY when you don’t feel like it. All of which reminds me of this piece of wisdom from our beloved philosopher-painter:

Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do. – Bob Ross

The message was crystallized for me in an unexpected way when another friend sent me a link to an incremental web-game about writing. I played around with it for half an hour or so, and I think the challenge of mustering enough dedication to progress will be familiar to any writer. Dedication to putting words on the page is the hard part.

What all of this has amounted to, for me, is a bit of comfort that the best is yet to come as long as I sit my butt at my computer and keep working towards that dream of joining the inimitable Ms. Bujold in the ranks of oft-honored Hugo winners.

Final words of pep: I’ve been awake since 2 a.m. because my body thinks a full moon is a perfectly reasonable excuse to wake me up with an adrenaline rush. I’ve put in a solid day’s work on writing for other people. I feel queasy and burnt out. And I’m going to go write for a bit without worrying about how rubbishy the result is. You might be doing worse or about the same or just barely better, but join me anyway–if you get nothing else out of a tiring day, you will at least have gotten some practice. Here’s a song to get you going…

2 thoughts on “The Primacy of Practice

  1. Actually, it was Bujold’s THIRD book (The Warrior’s Apprentice) that got her previous two picked up, It’s really interesting to read them in order and see her getting better (like Terry Pratchett).


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