Talking About Practice

All throughout my childhood, my dad taught me how important it is to practice. When I struggled at baseball, he told me to practice. When I didn’t do well on a test, he told me to study harder for the next one. So when I became an avid writer, and my dream of becoming a professional writer became more and more realistic, I knew I should heed my dad’s advice.

So I wrote as much as I could, and—perhaps more importantly—I read as much as I could. I read magazines and newspapers, and I surfed the Internet for everything I could find in every major publication. From there I learned to write: I would read what I liked, and try to do what those writers did.

Still, today, I don’t read as much as I should, and I don’t write as much as I should. I’ve heard many professional journalists say that a good way to become a better writer is to write every day, and I don’t normally do that. I write a fair number of sports stories and do a fair amount of writing for class, but rarely do I write, say, for all seven days in a week. Even if it’s just a short piece on an event from the day or something cool that happened to me, I agree that it’s valuable to write every day. I think so for the same reason my dad always gave me: you always get better with practice. Writing is no different—I think the more you sharpen your skills, the better you get.

First, you generally learn more about yourself and your style. I believe the best writers of all genres have their own distinct style, something that makes their writing theirs. If I picked up, say, a Gary Smith profile on the ground without a name, I would know Gary Smith wrote it. Writing every day helps you find your voice that you can keep consistent.

I also think it helps you stay “in shape.” Like anything else—playing the trumpet, shooting a basketball, painting, singing, golfing, reading—writing is a skill that needs to be maintained. It’s not like riding a bike, where, as the expression goes, you learn how to do it and then you know forever. If you don’t write consistently, you lose touch with it. If I didn’t write all summer, I would have been a worse writer when school started in the fall than when I left in the spring. Writers—again, like trumpet players and golfers—go through slumps and surges, and I think staying in tune helps minimize those slumps.

Finally, you learn what works and what doesn’t. You might get to break the rules every so often, and that’s a good thing. You can try opening with a question, or writing a whole piece full of rhetorical questions. You can try opening with a quote, or writing a whole piece without even one quote. You can write long, winding paragraphs with complex diatribes, or you can break up your writing to keep the reader on his or her toes. Even just small devices—parallelism, metaphor, avoiding clichés—get tightened up. Everything is on the table, and when that’s the case, you can zero in on what works best.

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