It's a struggle. And I love it. Every. Day.

Let’s continue with the Bitch Slaps from two posts ago:

5. Practice

I ran track in high school. In junior high, I wanted so desperately to make the basketball team. So I took my Size M self out onto the driveway that summer before school and practiced endlessly. (I didn’t make the team, *sigh*, but I still crave a nerf basketball hoop in nearby proximity when I write to get the juices going when I feel stuck.) I attended karate lessons for seven years when I was growing up. (That feels like something ripe for the Things That White People Like blog.) I biked countless miles with my father and brother when I was thirteen or fourteen in training for a Century ride that we had set our sites on – where did that gumption go? I currently jog three to four times a week to stay in shape. (I’ve found running to exhaustion is a good way to cope with LA at times.)

Clearly I understand the concept of practice. So you’d think I’d be able to be as consistent with it in terms of my writing. It’s a muscle, it’s a discipline. It needs constant attention. But I have trouble be consistent with it unless I have a script in the works. If I’m between projects, or if a script is spiraling down to a fiery crash, then I have a tendency to let the practice dissipate for a couple of weeks. And then it's just that much harder to get back into the swing of things.

I need to keep consistent. I need to develop some kind of Zen mastery over the art of placing my ass on my desk chair each and every day. Back in my Veronica Mars fascination, I read Rob Thomas’s website, where he wrote about making a change in his life. His job wasn’t doing it for him as far as creative satisfaction was concerned, so he got up an hour earlier every morning and wrote. And that’s how he wrote Rats Saw God, his first YA novel that began the trek towards his stint on Dawson’s Creek and Cupid.

I tried that, the waking up early. But it didn’t hash out so well for me. It’s not that I can’t do the morning thing. I can. I often like it. The mind is still a bit hazy, still a bit dream-transitional. And most of my hyper-critical and second-guessing faculties are still trying to warm up for the day. But for some reason it takes all my mental capacity to prepare myself for going to this current job that I will be leaving soon (you hear me up there?), so it just didn’t mesh.

So I started writing right when I got home from work for a few hours. And that worked well for a while. But I find myself going for a jog right after work quite a bit to detox, to get the job out of my system. After that I’m hungry, then life happens, and SHIT – it’s 8pm or something. It’s just not a good use of my time.

So I need a system. A schedule. Something definite that’ll jive. I need to practice.

Every day. And I’m going to love it.

Which brings us to:

6. Loving the Plateau

I’m taking this idea of Loving the Plateau from a book I read recently that I enjoyed. It’s called Mastery by George Leonard. As of late, I’ve ruled out books on writing, or any of that how-to bullshit. It’s an industry, right up there with TV infomercials for new ab workouts and some Asimovian Super Tupperware or something. It’s a crutch, it feeds into insecurities and it’s all a really wonderful way to do something other than writing. But I do make exceptions now and then. Created By. Phil Rosenthal’s book. Adventures in the Screen Trade.

I recently read Writing From the Inside Out, which recommended Mastery. So I gave it a whirl. And this wasn’t about writing. It’s actually slightly more steered toward physical skill sets – the author’s love for aikido, sports, etc. But it’s presented in such a way that it’s applicable to anything at which one would want to excel. Leonard takes on our culture’s obsession with the illusion of excellence. With immediate gratification, the quick fix, and all manner of short cuts to bypass hard work. He essentially argues that mastery and fulfillment can only be found in Loving the Plateau.

Mastery requires practice, which requires time. If someone wanted to excel at, say, glass blowing, then they’d have to practice. A lot. They’d have to learn the basics, then spend years building up the requisite skill set. Then more time would be needed to start showing something beyond competency. Yet even more practice would be needed to start developing one’s flare for it, to start following one’s own burgeoning instincts and push the envelope within the competitive cut-throat world of glass blowing (hell, maybe it is cut-throat, I have no idea).

Basically, for all the time that one puts into this desire to excel at something, there are short bursts of achievement. The first time you grasped what you were supposed to be doing. The first time the glass held its shape. The first time you made something that looked legitimate. The first time you made a cathode ray tube – hell, whatever. But those bursts, those leaps up and forward, are seemingly few and seem to get farther and farther apart the farther you go. Most of your time will be spent working, practicing, honing away at your craft.

It’s the same for everything. Basketball. Chess. Acoustic guitar. Ballet. Animation. Writing. You’ve got to love it. Because you’re going to be spending most of your time practicing, working again and again over your skill sets. Most of your time is going to be spent on the plateau from one burst to the next. So, to love glass blowing – or, I don’t know, writing – you’ve got to love the plateau. Because, for the most part, that’s what being a writer (or glass blower) is; even if you’re Awesome Glass Blower Guy/Girl, or Joss Whedon or William Goldman, when you sit down to do your work, it’s the plateau, the same basic steps, the same working of those developed muscles.

ps. yet more to follow…

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