“Everything is practice.”- Pele
I feel out of shape, out of practice, out of focus. The words, they are stretching and grumbling, they don’t WANT to come out and do their job, thank you very much, they are quite content to stay slumbering, to remain curled up in a warm fuzzy pile of possibility. It’s cozy in there. Tangled and twisted, these adjectives and nouns and verbs and adverbs have gotten used to doing nothing, or at least only doing the bare minimum. Over the past month, the words in my life have gotten quite lazy.
The words I use to talk to my son, the “O words” are the laziest. They loll about, drinking coffee with their eyes half open while I wake up O. Only a few words are required to do this job, and it’s the same ones, over and over, and they can do their job with their eyes closed. “Good morning, merry sunshine!” And then some combination of “Up”, “Arms up”, “No sir”, “stay still” and “milk?”. There is no real effort involved there. And if it’s not a work day, no matter, the O words are still lazy. “No”, “yes”, “not for O”, “eat?”, “it’s bedtime for boys!”, “STOP”, “why are you crying?”, and “I love you monkey!” about covers it.
Then there are the words required to do my day job. These words are a little more alert than the O words, but really it’s the same combination of words every day. And while they have to be ready to jump into action, to clear up a misunderstanding or make the drafting of a legal document more clear, they are really just tin soldiers, marching in place and waiting to be called into action. They are good soldiers, the work words, they follow orders well and don’t think too much and understand that they all have a job to do, however small. There are a finite number of words that get used at work, and there are only a few possible combinations. The words are used to expand or contract, to clarify or to purposefully not clarify, to say yes or no. The work warriors do have a few specialty guys on call, waiting in the wings and doing extra push-ups, in case a situation comes up where spontaneous thinking and writing are required. But these situations are rare, and the specialty guys are too beefed up for their own good, with nowhere to let off steam. These guys also moonlight as my road rage team.
Then there are the good time guys and gals, the words used to talk with my husband, family, and best friends. These words are the chosen ones and they are so good at their jobs that they don’t really need to do anything. They’ve been doing this job for years, and have mastered the complicated short hand and inside jokes and terms of endearment that signify our worlds. They are like Tiger Woods before his fall, like Jay-Z (retired or not), like J.K. Rowling. They are masterful, they can do no wrong, they are just born great. They can do their thing while swilling a cocktail.
These are the words required to get through my day. At the beginning of November, I decided to get more serious about my writing. I planned to devote every Monday and Friday I had off to writing all day, I contemplated getting up every morning before work to get in a full hour of writing, and I was making a Plan. Well, we all know what they say about plans and God and roads of good intentions. Exactly. So of course I ended up working at my day job every Monday and Friday for the entire month of November. No free time, no designated time to write. No getting up early and reveling in my good intentions come to life.
And now, today, is the first day in over a month that I’ve sat in Starbucks and stared at a blank page. I don’t remember how to do this. This feels hard, I feel uncomfortable and out of shape, like I’m staring down a marathon that I forgot to train for. Or worse, I’m about to make a speech I forgot to write. I look around, I think about making a Christmas list, and emailing that friend I haven’t spoken to in a few months, and wonder if I should make a list of stuff instead of writing, because at least I have words for a to do list. Too many words, actually. And not the fun kind.
And the lesson? It is hard. It is work. Writing, words, like everything else, have to be used and exercised and practiced. Every writing book you pick up says you must write EVERYDAY. Write and write some more. Write terribly, write grandly, write drunkenly, write angrily, write happily, write with lots and lots of adverbs, but just write. And even though every writer knows this, at least in theory, we are still surprised by the slap in the face we get when we let the words remain dormant for too long. We are surprised by the reluctance of the words, by how unloose and uncooperative they are. And then we remember. We remember that writing is a practice. It is not a finish line, it is not an ending, it is not perfection. It is messy and unpredictable and glorious and frustrating and heart-breaking and fun. It is what we love to do best. But it is a practice and it is hard work. You can have all the talent in the world and it means nothing if you don’t use your words, everyday. Brilliance can die young, it can fade and it can get rusty. Remember Tiger Woods, Jay-Z, J. K. Rowling? They work hard, harder than anyone else. They practice, everyday. A million golf swings, a million rhymes, a million words written.
Interesting thing, when I think about “practice”, my first thought is that you practice at something to get good. Sort of like the dress rehearsal. Football teams practice before The Game, which is the performance itself. If I say I’m “practicing” something, the message I’m conveying is that what I’m doing is not the performance itself. But this is actually the total opposite of a writing practice. There is no big game. There is no show to be put on. The practice of writing is the act of writing. Period. End of story.
This post? It’s bad. It’s creaky, the words are grumbling, the adverbs out front, doing the easy work, while the verbs and nouns haven’t really woken up yet. But they are waking up, they are yawning and stretching and getting ready to do their thing.
Because the other thing about writing is that it’s always here, waiting for you, to begin again. The words may grumble and give you a hard time, they may be spectacularly bad for awhile to teach you a lesson, but words never go away, they never leave you. They are here, waiting for you to pick them up again, to practice.