Artists of life and love need to practice. We learn by doing, hone our skills by repetition, and improve by training. Regular practice conditions us to become better—more competent and more effective—in the ways of authentic life and genuine love.
In her book, Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg compared writing to running, both of which require a commitment to practice:
. . . the more you do it, the better you get at it. Some days, you don’t want to run and you resist every step of three miles, but you do it anyway. You practice whether you want to or not. You don’t wait around for inspiration and a deep desire to run. It’ll never happen, especially if you are out of shape and have been avoiding it. But if you run regularly, you train your mind to cut through or ignore your resistance. Just do it. And in the middle of the run you will love it. When you come to the end, you never want to stop. And you stop, hungry for the next time (p. 11).
Educator Ken Robinson’s brother ian is a musician who “plays drums, piano, and bass guitar.” Once Ian was in a Liverpool band with a very talented keyboardist named Charles. After one of the band’s gigs, Ken told Charlie how much he enjoyed hearing him play and said that he would “love to be able to play keyboards that well.” Charlie responded, “No you wouldn’t.” Ken insisted that he would.
“No, you wouldn’t,” he said. “You mean you like the idea of playing keyboards. If you’d love to play them, you’d be doing it.” He said that to play as well as he did, he practiced every day for three or four hours in addition to performing. He’d been doing that since he was seven” (The Element, p. 24)
How many free throws, I wonder, do you have to shoot in practice to make two with three seconds left on the clock and your team down by one? How many times does a choir rehearse the final movement, the Ode to Joy, of Beethoven’s Ninth’s Symphony so that they can sing it with the kind of glad abandon the composer intended? How many first lines does an author write, erase, delete, revise and replace before she feels that line welcomes you to her story the way a gracious porch welcomes you to a home? Or until he feels that the first line hits you like a roundhouse punch and knocks you off your feet, so that you’re fairly warned about the trouble ahead?
A friend told me about a T-shirt she saw which said: “Hard work wins out over talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
To be artists of life—to be and become people who experience, explore, and express love more fully, freely and beautifully—calls for practice.