Diets don’t work if you have more “cheat days” than normal days. A gym membership becomes an unused expense if you don’t go regularly. Athletes need to train regularly. So too, your artistic talents should be practiced as often as possible.
Some writers disagree with my daily writing prescription, and that’s fine, but I believe wholeheartedly that anyone wishing to perfect their craft should practice it daily. To not do so is to loose any edge you had. This is doubly true when drafting a new story.
By the way, this applies to anyone striving for greatness at anything, so be sure to share this page with your creative circles.
I used to play a lot of pool. I’d grown up around pool leagues in my early teen years, and after the rest of the family moved on to other things, I kept playing. I didn’t realize it at first, but to get good, I was going to need a lot of work. I’m not talking around-the-local-bar good. I’m talking professional level play.
There was I time when I could regularly break-and-run three or four nineball tables in a row without ever giving my opponent a shot. Few could keep up, and those that could would play with me on a point system of one point per game in a race to 12 or 15, sometimes more.
I didn’t get to that point by reading books or playing with friends. I had spent enough time in my local pool hall that I had a free table anytime one was open. I also got free sodas. While I had a crowd of 10-15 people who would join up with me later at night (I brought in paying customers to hang out; probably why I got the perks), I would show up early and play by myself for a few hours. I spent about four hours per night in there on average, and most of it was running drills. Bank drills, straight pool drills, drawing, fading, masse, everything. I spent time working on my stroke by “shooting” over the spot with no balls on the table. I videoed myself playing so that I could see weak areas in my technique.
Eventually, I gave it up. I can still play a little bit, and like to from time to time, but I am nowhere near as good as I was. Why? Because daily practice isn’t a lie, it’s not some made-up “work hard or else” mantra. It works! And it works quite well. I still have my moments, when all of that training comes back for a five or ten minute spurt, but not often. I don’t play for competition anymore, only for fun. It’s hard to be good at anything, and there isn’t a decent pool hall around here anyway.
The point I’m making is that to be really great at anything, you need to dedicate yourself to that thing without reservation. While I don’t write as much as I should, especially of late, a new novel draft is my time to shine. I blaze through the pages of story until I get to the end.
Practice, practice, practice. Train. Learn. Keep learning. Never tire of the thing you seek to do well, and wear yourself out on it over and over and over. Then, shake off the groggy, and get back to work.
This is the only formula that I’ve ever seen actually work across the board for everyone. People who have success with their art practice it daily. They never quit, and they never seem to think about anything else. One of the best guitar players I know spends hours every day practicing, and when he’s away from his guitar he’s wearing headphones and studying music. I’ve never seen him not working on his music. He isn’t famous, just a local band member, but he strives toward greatness with his art, and hearing him play live is definitely an experience.
Now, you don’t necessarily need to go to that extreme, but mediocre performance comes as the result of mediocre effort. Just keep that in mind when you are taking a “cheat day” from your art, or from your current work-in-progress. It will show in the final product, and you might never know why things aren’t just right.
If your schedule is weekdays, or just weekends, hold to it. Schedule some time for doing, but also some time for learning and researching. Schedule time for studying the competition. Spend time dedicated to your craft, whatever it is, and spend it regularly.
This might be one day per week, one hour per day, or any other schedule (depending on the craft you are trying to perfect). Fine. Stick to it, don’t deviate, and do everything you can to ensure that you stay on track. If it’s possible, chart your progress somehow. Reward yourself for outstanding performance and come up with some kind of real reprimand for skipping out (tossing a 20 dollar bill in a jar each time you miss a day is pretty good incentive, and you can put it toward your art later).
The way to find peace is to stick. ~American History X
Life is a game. It’s a game where the rules are gray, the odds are always stacked against you, and winning is nigh impossible. It isn’t even about winning, it’s about progressing through the field, charging ahead toward your desired end, and doing whatever it takes to reach your goal. Every second lost, every practice skipped, every word uttered unfiltered could potentially trash your chance at getting there. This is true in love, in work, and especially in art. The people with the best chances of success realize that every second wasted is a week against them. They realize that saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can trash a relationship, or a career. We must be mindful. We must be daring, yet tempered. We must calculate our chances for the risks we take and lunge at every gimme life gives up. We must be willing to die for it, to fight for it, and to tear the world apart if it stands between us and the thing we truly desire.
Of course, you must also know what you truly desire, and focus your attention toward that thing. For me, this is the hardest part of all. Perhaps for you as well?