Lorning and Practice

(Yes, ‘learning’ is misspelled in my subject.  On purpose. It’s a joke. No, it would take too long to explain. Deal)

I tend to talk very openly about my writing goals and word counts and issues that crop up and the like.  This has led to comments, both on this blog and privately, that are along the lines of “maybe you should slow down (ie, write less) and learn more”.

Sounds like a reasonable plan, right? Except, it isn’t.  This statement and statements along the same lines have  logical fallacies in them.  They imply that a) writing slow= writing better and b) learning somehow happens outside of the actual writing work.  Neither of these things are true.

Let me demonstrate my point using videogames (because I can!).

Starcraft 2 is arguably the best real-time strategy (RTS) game out there.  A few months ago I discovered SC2 replay and tutorial videos on you-tube and have been watching them since.  I also own the game and have played a bit, but writing work has gotten in the way of that and I haven’t had nearly as much time as I’d like for videogames (and what time I’ve had, I’ve spent playing Borderlands with my husband).

But I’ve watched hundreds of hours of strategy videos and games.  I basically use SC2 videos as my mental break time during the day or late at night when I can’t sleep and don’t feel like working or reading.  I can discuss build orders and micro/macro strategies and unit choices with the best of them and probably, if no one saw me play, sound pretty much like a hard-core SC2 player.  My knowledge of the strategies and ideas behind them is huge.

I suck at SC2.  I’m really, really bad at it.  I haven’t played my ladder games (the multi-player ranking is called ladder) yet, but I imagine I’d be bottom of the heap.  I can barely beat the AI on easy.  Why is this? I mean, I’ve studied hard core, right? I know how hot-keys work and which units counter which units and what my timings should be on scouting and getting which building when.  My brain is stuffed with SC2 tactics and ideas and strategies.  But I can’t play the game to save my life.

Because I haven’t practiced.  I haven’t PLAYED the game nearly enough to get the practical skills to implement my knowledge.

See where I’m going with this?  Writing is the same.  I can read every book on writing ever written.  I can attend every conference, join every critique workshop, read and talk about writing and other people’s stories until my tongue and eyes bleed, but that won’t make me a good writer.

Only writing will.  All the side things, all the reverse-outlining best-selling novels, all the reading long-time pro’s work and blogs, all the industry knowledge and the business knowledge and the craft books in the world won’t mean jack or shit unless I’m writing my own words.

If I’d spent 200 hours playing SC2 instead of watching these videos, I bet I’d be at least Gold rank on ladder by now.  If I’d spent 100 hours watching videos and 100 hours playing, I might be Gold rank also.

It’s about doing both.  I’m learning and reading about writing and studying good books, but I’m also writing.  Writing is the first and most important thing to do.  All the rest is gravy and, like gravy, if you don’t have anything to apply the skills to, it ends up being a plate full of soupy worthlessness (okay, bad imagery, but you get the point).  Without practice, knowledge means nothing.

So yeah, I’m working hard to get my word counts up, to be more consistent in setting aside three or four or six hours a day to write.  Because the fifty or so writing books on my shelf won’t do me any good if I’m not putting the practice in, if I’m not doing the work.  I need to be writing more, in other words, not less.

So if you find yourself frustrated, if you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere skill-wise, don’t slow down.  Speed up. Do more words.  Stab those voices of doubt that are telling you that you don’t know enough, you haven’t studied enough, your words aren’t good enough, and just put your ass in the chair and write more words.  Because the easy AI might kick your ass while you’re trying to figure out how the hell you tech up to hive, but eventually you’ll have your revenge with an early 7 roach cheese push.   Because you practiced it. Over and over and over.  Until you could do it right, until you found what worked for you.

Practice. Write more.  Want a career in something? Put in the hours to get good at it.  Put in the hours for study also, but don’t neglect the practicing.  Practicing is more important.   Talking and reading about writing will never equal what you can learn by just doing it.  We’re all different, we all have different strengths and weaknesses and habits.  But if you don’t practice, you’ll never learn what those are.  No book, no other writer, no seminar or class or critique can ever tell you how you work and what your exact path in this career will be.

Only writing will do that.  Only writing can do that.

Do eet!

15 Responses to “Lorning and Practice”

  1. Jeff @ Dark Elms

    99% agree with you. Except, I don’t think it’s “speeding up” as much as “longer hours.” But that’s me.

    Other than that, you’re right on.

    I think the comments about “slowing down” and “learning more” come from what is perceived as an inordinate amount of frustration that you’re putting on yourself.

    Look at the heading of two blog posts ago: “Failure, Rejection, Depression, and Sundry.” That sets a tone that’s hard to shake.

    The reaction is — If your goals are driving you to failure and depression, lighten your goals, don’t put so much pressure on yourself.

    You see?

    My only advice would be to think how you present your dreams, goals, desired work either, etc so you can avoid some of this.

    I’m not say DON’T talk about them. Just be aware of how you’re talking about them.

    • izanobu

      Thanks, Jeff 🙂

      I figure it’s my blog and my journey, so I might as well be honest about how I’m going about it. While that post title is a bit of a downer, I think the message by the end of the post was pretty positive 🙂 I am hard on myself, I know that. It’s a feature of my personality. Even if my goals were to write 1 word a month, I’d still find a way to beat myself up over it. The depression I suffer from is a function of my brain chemicals. I choose not to medicate (except when it gets very bad) because I can’t stand how I feel or think when I’m on drugs.
      Also that post was called that because I’d gotten a huge pile of rejections that week (3 in the day before I wrote that). So I was feeling pretty low and recorded that feeling. Hopefully someday I’ll look back on all this from my castle in Ireland and smile. 😉

      And yeah, by “speed up” I do mean (generally) “put more time in”. Though I think some people could be well served by shutting off their nagging inner voices and just writing faster as well. But generally, more hours will do it 🙂

      • Jeff @ Dark Elms

        I think I recommended the book FEELING GOOD by David Burns. Strongly recommend you read it.

        Even if it doesn’t help (and it might not, since your depression is a chemical imbalance), the first 50 pages is a treasure trove of character motivations.

        Like killing two birds with one stone.

        PS — If you get that castle in Ireland, can I have one of the servants quarters?

      • izanobu

        I have ordered the book through my library, just waiting for it to show up. Thanks Jeff 🙂

  2. Ursula

    Also, you write crazy fast. For me, 100 words/hour is a reasonable figure.

  3. Ellie

    Just distracted by comments. 100 words per hour? geez I alwasy aim for a 1,000!

    I just wanted to say that you are right. You must practice to be good at what you want. How to write guides are fab, as long as soon as you put that book down you then write….again. The suggestion sto help with writing are just that, suggestions. And if you are reading from a research view point, I was told too much knolwedge of a subject will destroy your writing. Let your imagination take the lead.

    anyway we are all different and what works for one, may not for another. You just got to do what is right for you.

  4. thomaskcarpenter

    Totally agree.

    The only thing I’m going to say to the conglomeration of posts that you’ve made on this subject is that if you’re going to make these grand plans for high word counts, which I totally support, make changes in your schedule to you can get them done.

    You. Yes, you Annie. You are an awesome writer (really she is, I got to read her novel at the workshop, it rocked) and if you’re going to give yourself a goal of 10,000 words per day (or whatever pace you want) then you’d better be prepared to cut out anything else that gets into the way (that includes Starcraft2!) to meet that goal. Punch me for saying it next time you see me, but it’s true! 🙂

    Btw, in more personal writing news, asking this here since I seem to talk about my writing more on your blog than on mine, I got a nice personal rejection from Analog on a story. The same story had received a personal rejection from Asimov’s before that. My first instinct is to just send it to F&SF (after I get an answer for the current story I have out at them), but I’m wondering if I should send to WOTF instead. The only issue is it’s shorter than most stories in the anthologies (4,500) and a slightly different style than they typically go for. Thoughts? Ideas?

    Speaking of writing and my blog, though normally it’s a tech blog about augmented reality, I’ve started doing a Sunday post about my writing (www.thomaskcarpenter.com), so you have to stop by and say hi Annie. 🙂

    Everyone else is welcome too and I might give you some ideas for cool sci-fi stories. 🙂

    • izanobu

      Hahaha, I should probably explain at some point the way my brain works 🙂

      Basically I *have* to set high goals. If I give myself 1 thing to do in a day, I might get it done, but probably I won’t. If I make the list have 2-3 things on it, I’ll usually get one done. If the list has three or four things or more, I’ll always get at least two done. The longer the list, the more I’ll get done (to a point, if I make a list of 100 things, I’ll still probably only get three or four done). So each day I make a list of at least five things I need to do, so that two or three get done regularly.

      My word count goals are the same. If I didn’t aim high I wouldn’t hit anything at all. I might not get to 100k a month, but I know with a goal like that I’ll hit at least 50-60k a month and get more consistent in my habits, which really isn’t so bad 🙂

      (And yes, I’m lazy. I know. I love videogames and reading too much to necessarily prioritize my writing the way that I should. So sue me 🙂 )

      Yay, Tom. Do Sunday posts. I should remember to add a link to you, too.

  5. thomaskcarpenter

    Yeah, I’m a sucker for a good game too. I had to give up my WoW addiction to really focus on my writing a few years ago. I still play some games on the PS3. I consider it my reward for meeting my goals.

    I actually started the Sunday posts a few weeks back. I’ve been debating with myself for the past six months on how to transition my blog from a tech only one to an all around blog. I still do my AR specific posts on Games Alfresco (keeping me in contact with a huge audience of techies) but I felt stifled by the restrictions I placed on myself when I was growing my blog. Plus I just flat didn’t have the time. ;p

    • izanobu

      I think the Sunday idea is good 🙂

      Also…send that story to the contest, stat. If it is getting personal rejections from the top magazines, it’s good. Do eet!

  6. thomaskcarpenter

    I’ve already got a story in for Q1 (the story came close at Clarkesworld and Apex so I think that one’s a good one too). So I can’t send it for another six weeks anyway. Maybe when I get an answer on my current story at F&SF I’ll send it there and then it should be about time for the contest.

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