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January 2017

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"Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours ... . Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story."
--Ann Patchett, "The Getaway Car," This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

This quote reminds me of an article on Quantity vs. Quality that I stumbled across recently (and I'm sorry I can't remember where I first saw this link). The takeaway from it was that putting in the time, repeating exercises again and again, will improve your craft just through sheer volume. (The Write Practice, where this article appeared,  also allowed for the opposite approach, focusing on quality.)

And all of it resonates because I've been cleaning out the boxes and files in my writing office, a slow task that will take a long time, and I have found some truly hideous poems and stories from years ago. But two things struck me about these early efforts:

--That there are so many of them. I wrote a lot. And when I liked a story, I produced multiple versions of it.

--That I've gotten better.

There are people who can write something brilliant the first time they try. But most of us don't. Most of us reach the art through the craft, as Ann Patchett said. People recognize that playing the piano, skating a triple Axel, or hitting a three-point shot in basketball takes practice and repetition. Writing's the same way, in my experience.

I have notebooks full of my stumbling, my practicing. I'm finding that only a small percentage of it is worth keeping. But the sheer quantity of it reminds me how much I have put into writing, and how silly I'm being when I expect things to be easy (say, when I expect to produce a perfect first draft instantly!)


Random writing is one way to improve, but another, and better, is specifically practice the things that need improve.

Still need to do a lot.
Yes, I was thinking that just repeating our bad habits isn't helpful. But we do learn things from the sheer amount of hours we put in.
I do think that putting in the volume of words early on gets you to the point where you can recognize what to focus on and work on the art more mindfully. Thank you for the quote; it articulates beautifully some thoughts I've been turning over recently.
Supposedly, the time we put into something is the best predictor of our ultimate skill. I certainly hope that's true. :-)
It can be interesting to see how far you've come over the years. But I wish I'd kept my earliest efforts instead of dumping them when I moved. I miss that newbie enthusiasm I used to have before I learned a bunch of rules because, somewhere hidden in that pile of lost writings, is the joy I'm trying to resuscitate.

Edited at 2013-12-30 05:19 pm (UTC)
I'm saving a few things. But many of the works I'm discarding are things I rewrote in much better form later on.

Here's hoping you recapture that enthusiasm!