Monday, February 23, 2015

On Practicing

Everyone has heard the old joke.
Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
A: Practice.

While practicing improves the performance of any skill, many of us resent, postpone or even shun practicing.

The ACT college entrance exam is given early in March, so I’m in tutoring crunch time. I tell my students that practicing on sample tests will increase their speed in answering questions. As few things are as mind-numbing as ACT practice tests, it’s safe to say that none of my students has ever done her homework.

Recently, I asked my son, Jeremy, how to get students to practice.
“Scare them,” he said.
“Um, what?” I asked.
“My guitar teacher writes a metronome setting, and I’m so scared, I practice until I can play that fast.”

That approach works for Jeremy because he owns the problem. He understands that becoming a great guitar player includes the ability to play fast with clean articulation. My students don’t see how recognizing an Oxford comma or a 3-4-5 right triangle will help them excel in college. Imagine that!

My mother used to say, “Practice makes perfect.” But how do writers practice?
Trunk novels: Few writers publish the first novel they tried to write. All those manuscripts languishing on my hard drive have honed my writing skills.
Writing exercises: I do fewer of these than I used to. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the literary version of scales and arpeggios.
Free writing: See above.
Revision: Re-writing and re-envisioning are essential. It’s safe to say I practice revising every day.


Kristin Lenz said...

I have a hard time making myself do those writing exercises. But yes, I'm practicing every day, revising and revising.

Ann Finkelstein said...

Kristin: Writing exercises seem better in a group setting. Misery loves company, I guess.