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Conjure up a picture of a great musician and we see him practicing, working hard to master the intricacies of his art, meticulously laboring over the most difficult passages. When you think of great musicians and compare them to your own abilities, it is easy to believe that beyond the difference in talent there were long hours of practice. The same is true for athletes, chefs, actors, and even artists.

While we usually view only the finished product of an artist, we know that a bronze statue can inspire dozens of sketches before a final figure is designed.

So why is it "write, writing, writer" can seem like such a strange notion?

Practice on a daily basis does not just mean rewriting an existing article... though that would be a form of practice. It does not just mean rambling sessions of stream of consciousness writing... though that would be a form of practice, too. It isn't just working on a specific grammar rule. It is a right combination of a many of elements.

How can we design a practice session that will embrace the multiple aspects of our discipline?

Let's start by looking at a typical session for musicians - (note: beginner to professionals follow a similar pattern):

1. Scales - The elemental blocks of all musical composition, scales are practiced rigorously and often. If you were a childhood musician, you are probably saying, "I remember scales."

Scales encompass a scope of major, minor, natural, harmonic, melodic, chromatic and more. The practice also includes chords, arpeggios, and cadences. When you have mastered them all, you play them anyway, over and over again. Why? Because there is something about playing with these fundamental building blocks that entwines with the very essence of being a musician.

2. Something Old - Musicians often warm up their sessions with a favorite piece. Perhaps they improvise their own variation or they may just be looking for a unique translation that a change of texturing will bring.

3. Something New - There is something so satisfying about conquering a new piece of music, especially when it is just a stretch further than the last piece.

4. Review of theory - The written technical rules of theory are not much fun, but without them a musician doesn't fully understand the principles of music. If you don't learn the rules, you can't break the rules. Like grammar, it is easy to discern between the accomplished musician who breaks a rule and a beginner who doesn't know the difference. One commands respect and the other grabs either our scorn or patience depending upon the effort.

5. Something Original - Not all musicians are composers, but many like to dabble. Original compositions are the result of years of practice.

Not all writers apply these steps to their own work. They race right to the fifth step and then wonder why their work isn't getting enough positive attention. Sometimes they are so closed to constructive criticism that you can't even head them in the right direction.

As a writer, my practice includes the following:

1. Practice a grammar rule.

2. Rewrite something old, even just a line.

3. Rewrite a work in progress.

4. Reading - an exercise that broadens us by exposing us to different voices and concepts.

5. Stream of consciousness writing.

6. Limited exercises. For example, come up with ten titles you could have given this piece.

7. Write to a new format. Choose a sonnet if you only write non-fiction. Choose a travel piece if you only write short stories.

8. My favorite: Find a topic you would like to write about and send out a query letter to see if you can sell it.


Where is my grammar book? I have some practicing to do.



Writer's Note:

While everyone should practice, each of us has our own set of needs. Many of us need extra hours with the grammar rules. Some of us need to expand our creative energies.

Not everything we write is worthy of publishing...not even on our home pages on the Internet. Not everything we compose was meant to be heard in public.

If you don't already have a practice agenda and schedule consider creating and committing to one today.