(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.