N-16: Keeping a Practice or Growing the Writer Within
There’s many schools of thought on this topic and it can be a hotly contested one at that, but it’s necessary to discuss because it’s what I feel is one of the integral parts of NaPlWriMo: keeping a practice.
Everyone’s seen the analogy of a musician or an athlete practicing, and, as tired of an analogy, it is fitting. Without practice, a musician won’t stay sharp and an athlete won’t be able to keep his or her body in top condition. The same goes for writers; the only way we get to know the fertile ground of our minds and experiences is by continuing to write and observe.
And then we come to the issue: the daily writing. National Playwriting Month forces you, in theory, to write every day. And I think it’s a good thing. If you wait until you’re inspired, you will be waiting forever and you won’t be doing a lot of writing. Sometimes, when I am blocked, the only way to get through is a pile of paper and a couple hours (or days, or weeks, and so on). When you write daily, you sharpen your skills daily. In the end, this will only serve to help you.
Personal example: when I first moved to Arkansas in 2007, I was a stranger in my own country. I had never lived anywhere but Iowa and Illinois, and Arkansas was NOT these two places. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. So I was alone, save for a future fiancé and two cats. On September 11th of that year, Suzan-Lori Parks did a guest lecture at Hendrix College, where my future fiancé taught. Without a doubt, this is what gave me the strength to carry on with my writing as a dealt with being here, trying to find a job and make friends. The next day, without announcing it to anyone, I sat down and wrote a scene. The next day, I wrote another. And the next, and the next, and four months later, I stopped because I was cast in a play, and had little time between learning lines and working full time. But the repercussions of my daily writing then are still being felt today. I wrote at least five new plays from that work then, and I still have plenty of scenes in the wings to expand into new work. I won’t lie, a daily practice like this is NOT going to always give you gold. Sometimes it will be pure, unadulterated crap. But in the end, this practice WILL make you stronger.
Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have "essential" and "long overdue" meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.
There’s another part of keeping a practice that I don’t think people consider often, because people don’t want to consider selfish acts, but keeping a practice and sticking with it regardless of what life throws at you IS a selfish act. Psychologist and primatologist Frans de Waal takes issue with those who equate "selfishness" with "self-serving." He argues that "Selfishness implies the intention to serve oneself, hence knowledge of what one stands to gain from a particular behavior" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selfishness). Keeping a practice DOES serve you as a writer. And it’s not a bad kind of selfish—it just says that you honor the writer in you enough to give it time to grow. Believe me, this is the kind of growth that will do NOTHING but benefit you in the end.
I sincerely hope you will take the time to grow your writer this year—join us today!
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Machelle Allman, Holly Arsenault, Will Bond, Karen Chandler, Michael Lee, Leslie Liautaud, Jeff Mackey, Maggie McAleese, Marian McNamee, Marla Porter, and all our anonymous donors.