practice

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.

imagine

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We’ve seen a lot of houses lately. That happens when you’re looking for a new place to live.

It’s fun to see how other people live, to check out different styles of construction and notice the changes over time—to recognize what is modern and what appears outdated. 

In the process, there's one habit I’ve noticed my wife and I doing: we speak about the house we’re viewing as if it were our own, even if it’s one we have no serious intention of living in. I think it’s a helpful practice, to pretend we already live there and imagine how our lives (and furniture) would be structured in such a place. It allows us to weigh out the positives and negatives of a future there. This is one of the many benefits of employing the imagination.

Our capacity to imagine is a spectacular thing. I heard this from copywriter and coach, Joshua Boswell, in a video course, 

“As humans, we have the unique ability to imagine and turn those imaginations into reality through a process called creation. If you don’t imagine something, you can never create it.”

Imagination is not only helpful, it’s essential for creatives of any field.

The wonderful thing about imagination is how accessible it is: anyone can do it anytime and anywhere. But not everyone does. It is a rare and valuable trait.

If you’re like me, you may hear the dear departed Gene Wilder singing Pure Imagination. It sounds so lovely, so magical. But let’s be honest, we don’t all have a bunch of money and a crazy chocolate factory in which to live out our wildest (or wilder) imaginations. Even the dreamiest of dreamers has their limits.

Like just about any part of creativity, there is an inherent challenge to living imaginatively. To be imaginative, you must be willing to overcome your own inner doubts and distractions and use your mind with purpose.

There is a balance to be found between giving your mind a direct focus but also allowing it to roam free.

These days, we can be so task-oriented, so goal-focused, we forget to take time to daydream, to “waste time”. 

Okay critics, I hear you, if our heads are always in the clouds, we’ll never get anything done, we’re in danger of being called a good-for-nothing layabout by some old-timey person (heaven forbid). 

So I say sure, it’s good to be a hard worker, to keep your head down and be dedicated to a task, but sometimes you need to look up and see the sky above you. Sometimes you have to step back and ask why you’re doing what you’re doing and, ultimately, where you’re going with it.

When we become so consumed with the t-crossing and i-dotting of day-to-day tasks, imagination becomes essential to help us get the broader view.

To imagine is to let your mind free, to allow it to think whatever it wishes, without hindrance.

Some folks will tell you imagination is a waste of time—a pointless, idle practice. And yet those people rely on methods and tools which were imagined by someone else.

Our imaginations may take us to far-off worlds, but it may be in those far-off worlds where we discover the keys we need in this world.

So whether you’re looking for a new place of residence or even trying to picture what life is like for someone who lives on the other side of the planet, I invite you to take a little time to imagine, to let your mind roam (with some direction). You may be delighted with what you discover. You may learn a valuable lesson you can apply today. Or you might just be weirded out by the thought of an entire workforce made entirely of oompa loompas.

observe

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What you are about to read is a continuation from my series, The Creative Approach.

As you may remember, the three steps to a creative approach are observe, question, and respond. Let’s tackle that first one: observe.

What does it mean to observe? 

Open your eyes. Seeing those words, I can’t help but think of the opening lines in the song, “Always,” by Erasure, which is obviously about the endless struggle to be creative amidst a contrary society. Alright, it’s open to interpretation. 

Where were we … oh yes, observation! So, where exactly should you begin? Why not start at your own front door? Step outside and take in the world. Take off your headphones for a minute and look up from whatever mobile device you’ve been glued to. This is more than a brief glance—let it all in.

While you’re in observation mode, don’t worry too much about trying to get something out of it. Just let things come to you as you discover them. Notice all your senses: what are the sounds, smells and even tastes? Don’t go licking light poles though, people might call the authorities on you—trust me on this one. 

Consider, how do you feel when you first step outside? Refreshed by the first breath of a new day, reluctant to be shoved around in a tight crowd like cattle, dread for an oncoming storm? Is it hot or cold, wet or dry, windy or calm? What sorts of people or animals are nearby and what are they doing? What do nearby buildings or landscape features look like? All these things may seem mundane at first, but when you really stop to take notice and record, you will begin to see things you haven’t seen before.

One common struggle is to look outside oneself. We spend the vast majority of our time thinking internal thoughts about our own wants and needs and, because of it, our surroundings go unnoticed. 

To be creative, you first have to appreciate your environment. Your environment is where you can draw inspiration. To be stuck inside your head all the time is to miss out. As you begin to look around, you’ll be surprised how a shift of focus will change the way you see the world.

A friend of mine recently published his first children’s book, What Do You Notice, Otis? I love how it encourages kids to pause, observe, and interact with the world around them. Sadly, this has become a neglected practice for many a person (regardless of age) today.

Observation isn’t hard, most of us have just gotten out of practice. But anyone—even a distracted, oblivious guy like myself—can do it. 

For example, on my drive to work I’ve noticed many things I found peculiar: a man wearing blue latex gloves while driving his beat-up silver Honda, another guy holding his leaf blower upright and swinging it as if he were playing a guitar, a girl with a large brace on her leg following her friends who were all in fancy dresses, and a young man who didn’t appear to be homeless with a sign asking for college money. Each of those could be the makings of a good story.

Now it’s your turn; take a moment to pause and observe in the world around you, or, even better, schedule some time and find a place to so do. You might even want to take a journal along for recording purposes. 

When you stop to look around, you’ll discover a world which was previously hidden to you, though it may have been right under your nose (it also helps you avoid stepping into anything … unpleasant). This will set off the sparks to ignite your creative drive and get those wheels in your head turning right round. Besides all that, you’ll find observing can be very fun (I myself am an avid people-watcher).

 

Here’s looking at you kid,

A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, do you make it a point to stop and take in your surroundings? If so, what have you noticed lately? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Links to the rest of the series:

The Creative Approach

Observe (current)

Question

Respond

attitude

When it comes to art, this is the general attitude I’ve discovered: in order to become great, you have to get all your bad junk out of the way. If you want to draw well, you have to draw 1,000 bad drawings first. If you want to write well, you have to get a million worthless words behind you. But I think there is an inherent flaw in this way of thinking: it views your previous work as useless, a necessary evil, an unfortunate part of the process.

Toward that end, there is a quote by Dorothy Parker I’ve heard repeated by many an author,

“I hate writing, I love having written.”

I once shared this mindset, but I’ve changed.

Malcom Gladwell proposed the idea you must spend 10,000 hours practicing at a thing before you become a master of it. He also pointed out that people who are exceptional at their craft are the ones who fall in love with the practice of it.

I heard fantasy author Brandon Sanderson make a statement about writing which really changed my perspective on the matter. I don’t recall the exact quote, but essentially what he said was, each and every word you write is a necessary one in the process of improvement. Those words aren’t a waste, they’re the steps you have to take to reach the next level and without them, you’ll never get there.

I believe this is just as true of any and every creative practice, artistic or not.  The difference, my fellow creatives, is in the attitude. If you want to be great at something, you have to love the practice of it, you have to enjoy the process. So I’ve been working to change my attitude about creativity and the hard work and effort required by it.

Fact is, I don't have to be creative, I get to be one. I don't have to write, I get to write. Creativity is a choice, one which takes determined effort, but it’s a good thing.

Now I’m thankful for the times I get to write, whether I feel like I’ve written well or not, because every words matters, each one accumulates toward something better.

 

What do you think? Do you view your own creative efforts this way? Do you see the importance in them or are they just something you have to do in order to achieve a desired result?

 

Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert