Practice Makes Better (a return from a writing drought)

As my former guitar and piano instructors continually told me, “practice makes perfect.” Well, I decided to not give them the chance of being right, and I eventually quit both lessons. I am now left with a complete inability to even tap out “Twinkle, Twinkle” on the piano, and my guitar strumming won’t provide me much more than playing songs by Chris Tomlin and the Fray. (For those of you who don’t play guitar, this means that I can alternate between 3 chords and move a pick up and down…a skill that I’ve seen both trained monkeys and 3 year olds perform on Youtube).

Now, I do sing a little bit, but I’ve never received any formal training; therefore, I keep my public musical performances contained to small church audiences where their standards are low, and they feel blessed to just have SOMEONE standing on the stage leading music. (It helps to find a church that has never had a formal music ministry.) Their simple standards and exuberant appreciation allow even a mediocre Chris Tomlin song to make this skinny, white boy from Indiana momentarily feel like Bono two Sundays a month.

But this whole “practice makes perfect” phenomenon really applies to a lot of aspects of life. I look back to where I was last year in medical school, and I realize how much more proficient I’ve become at studying. I now know primarily what texts to use, what friends make good study partners, and how much study time is required to do well on a test. This doesn’t mean that school is easy, but it seems slightly more manageable. I just had my one year anniversary with my wife, and I realized that daily practicing marriage for the last year has improved both of our skills at being a couple. My parents also proved to me that it takes practice to raise children because it’s obvious that it wasn’t until their third child came along that they got a handle on what it takes to raise a truly delightful human being. (I hope someone in my family reads this because they’ll find it wildly entertaining. I think everyone who knows my family will agree that Neil and Bernice’s parenting achievements peaked out on their firstborn.)

My only problem with the “practice makes perfect” mantra is that it subtly tricks me into thinking that perfection is attainable. Let me make something clear. Practice DOESN’T make perfect. Practice just means that one’s inept mind might eventually be able to develop learned reactions in a primitive Pavlovian sense. I believe that the definition of practice should be as follows:

To screw up a specific action so many times that you eventually start to screw up less often…but you still will screw up a lot.

Practice sure doesn’t make anything perfect…but it can make it better. I’ve decided that this is my new goal with writing. My Creative Writing teacher in undergrad once made the following statement in class.

“A writer writes.”

This truth seems simplistic, but it’s a great reminder to me that the only way I can become a better writer is by sitting down regularly and writing. It will often be rough, dry, boring, and occasionally just plain awful. But hopefully sometimes some works of substance and truth might peek their heads up through the dusty rubble of words surrounding them.

So I now welcome myself back from my writer’s drought that was Board Exams. I will keep practicing—because practice makes better.

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