perform

practice round

While playing board games—something I try to do regularly—there’s a little tactic I’ve found helpful for new players: the practice round.

When one or more people are unfamiliar with a particular game, it’s useful to play a round or two of a pretend game so they can get some idea of the rules and strategy of the game. Then the pretend game is over and the real game starts as if the practice had never happened. This helps beginners avoid making costly mistakes right at the start.

Now, I don’t do this all the time. Some games are easy enough even for the uninitiated. But some players will request a practice round and sometimes I’ll suggest it  for more complicated games or when I know the person playing may need a little help.

Practice rounds are great and occasionally they’ll go well enough that the players decide to just continue on as a real game rather than starting over. But I’ve never just stopped playing a game after a practice round. Any game worth playing is worth playing for real, right up until the end where a winner is determined.

When it comes to the creative calling, there are those who live in a continual state of practice round and those who play for real, win or lose.


I’m currently reading Pressfield’s The War of Art and in it he writes about the difference between the professional and the amateur. I think the practice round serves as an excellent example of an amateur’s mindset.

Don’t misunderstand me. There is a time for practice rounds, a time to test the waters and see if you’re ready to commit to learning a craft. But at some point you’ve got to decide whether you’re going to lay it down or go all in.

I spoke with a friend a few weeks ago who told me of the expensive recording equipment he’d purchased in order to begin making films for his business. It was a big cost, and he hadn’t anticipated some of the purchases. Still, he knew it was necessary if he was going to make top-notch videos for his work.

There’s no doubt in my mind whether or not he was serious about his pursuit. For him, practice time had ended and the games had begun.

I’d also like to point out that I’m not dogging on practice itself. The time and patience it requires to learn a new skill through repetition is all part of the game. What I am saying is that you won’t create something worthwhile by merely dabbling. You’ve got to get serious.

I once heard Brandon Sanderson relate the act of creative writing to a performance art, something you rehearse over and over until you’ve got it down just right.

Perhaps every creative undertaking is a performance in some way, even when the creator is both actor and audience. It’s a determination to go through your lines, reveal the inner workings of your character, and tell your story the best way you know how.

Even if it’s all an act, it’s not just for show. Whether you’re memorizing your lines and placement, sitting down to write the next scene in your book, or trekking around town with a camera and microphone for interviews, it’s all part of the buildup to the big finale, the final score.

Sure, commitment is hard. Games take time to learn and play. Any game worth playing has risk—the possibility of losing. But that’s what makes the win feel so good. Even a loss can be a valuable lesson, one that’ll equip you for the next game. 

When you really love the game, you have fun playing no matter what the outcome. Because sometimes a win is more than just a victory, it’s knowing you played the game well.

Besides, nobody wins in the practice round.

performance

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I had drama for two years in high school. I’m talking about the class here, not being in a state of unnecessary emotional upheaval. That was the full 4 years.

I really enjoyed our drama class. Most of our plays were pretty hokey or strange, and I didn’t really see eye-to-eye with the teacher (especially when I stood on my desk) but I made some great friends and learned a lot through it.

Having been in drama, I know a bit about performance.

It’s an unusual part of creativity. It’s fascinating, really, how a musician can play the same song over and over or a broadway actor can portray the same character for many years yet not tire of it.

Perhaps it is the slight differences that occur each time they take the stage.

Maybe it’s how they find ways to make alterations of their own to every presentation. 

I know that in drama each show we put on had a life of its own. Whether mistakes, ad-libs, or crowd’s response, each performance was unique.

Most attempts at creativity are, in some sense, a performance. No audience necessary.

You convince yourself to go at it again, to try once more, with feeling, even when it often just feels to you like the same old thing. 

But then, there it is, that new little unexpected something. And you’re all giddy once more and excited to let the show go on.

Or maybe you’re terribly nervous every time you begin. I know I was. My whole body would shake before crossing that curtain and stepping into the glare of the stage lights. 

Maybe I’ll totally blow it this time, maybe I’ll ruin the whole show and everyone will hate me.

But, every time, once I started acting, started moving and speaking, all those fears melted away like morning dew. Then I had fun.

I felt the same way, to a lesser extent, when I used to play guitar for the high school group at my church. Once I started playing, everything just felt right and I forgot about myself. Even if I did mess up (and I surely did) I just played on and didn’t fret about it.

I hope Creativity is like that for you. Though dull routine or the grip of fear may tempt you to stay back, I hope you step out once more into the bright lights and discover things falling into place once more, in a way you hoped they would but are still surprised every time it happens.