One summer, I worked as a customer nutrition specialist for a now-defunct weight loss clinic called LA Weightloss. Despite the title, and the daily uniform of a white lab coat over business casual, it was a glorified sales job. I spent that whole season, eight hours a day, cold-calling old clinic clients.
More accurately, I spent the entire summer trying to look like I was cold-calling clients. Sometimes I’d speak the script into an empty receiver when the senior saleswomen walked by my cubicle, scribbling “notes” on Post-Its while listening to the dial tone.
At the same time I was learning to be an atrocious salesperson, I was also discovering something valuable: I began to write on those Post-It notes. Short poems, quick thoughts and longer entries spanning several notes began to pile up on my desk. And at the end of the day, I’d crumple them up and throw them away to hide the evidence of my carryings-on, ready to start anew the next morning.
I didn’t realize it then, but in between job responsibilities, I was doing real work: putting pen to paper every day. When I sat down to write, really write, my prose was noticeably fresher, faster and more interesting because of my dilatory summer scribbling.
While nothing can replace the heavy lifting of planting your butt in a chair and writing that novel, planning that essay, metering that poem or plotting (and re-plotting and re-plotting) that short story, the whole proces will flow smoother from start to finish if you practice writing. Even better, if you practice writing privately (like on throwaway Post-Its, in a .temp file, in the sand, whatever), so you can create without fear of your practice prose being read by anyone else. It’s meant for your eyes only.
Why Bother Practicing?
Everyone wants to get down to the brass tacks of just writing the thing that will be published, but:
- Practice writing frees you from your internal critic. We’ve all got a constant editorial voice that’s powerful enough to stop even the most lyrical thought mid-sentence for minor infractions, like typos. But if you practice writing, the stakes aren’t that high, and you can flow into your thoughts without concentrating on small errors, or whether your character’s birthday is in January (or is it February)?
- Taking time out of a big project to practice – writing whatever comes to mind – can clear your head and actually heighten your focus when you return to your real work.
- In practice, you can use different voices, change up your writing style or just play with your words without fear of commitment. Practicing new techniques is like having a itinerant love affair in a foreign country: You can pack up and go home at any time if you don’t like the scenery.
So practice! If you don’t have a lot of extra time to luxuriate in the written word, start small. Commit to just one sentence per day of writing practice – one thing you just write for pure pleasure, privately, without judgment. Write it on a Post-It and toss it away when you’re done, or write on the steamy bathroom mirror and wait for the words to fade. Even when those practice notes are gone, the tips and tricks, the sharpness and the newfound clarity of practice writing will stay with you.