writing

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.

the elements of style

After having heard many recommendations, I finally purchased and read Strunk and White’s book, The Elements of Style.

If you write at all, in any capacity, this is a must-read.

Not only is it incredibly short, clever, and to the point, it also has some insightful thoughts on writing itself—some of which impacted me greatly.

Sure, it’s not the final word on proper writing and even I disagreed with some of the points (this from a rather agreeable guy), but it’s a great overview of the essentials. I expect I’ll return to it often.

Allow me to share just a few excerpts that I found striking:


“Writing, to be effective, must follow closely the thoughts of the writer, but not necessarily in the order in which those thoughts occur. … The first principle of composition, therefore, is to force or determine the shape of what is to come and pursue that shape. … The more clearly the writer perceives the shape, the better are the chances of success.”

 

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

“All writers, by the way they use the language, reveal something of their spirits, their habits, their capacities, and their biases. This is inevitable as well as enjoyable. All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation—it is Self escaping into the open. No writer long remains incognito.”

“Writing is, for most, laborious and slow. The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by.”

“A careful and honest writer does not need to worry about style. As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge, because you yourself will emerge, and when this happens you will find it incredibly easy to break through the barriers that separate you from other minds, other hearts—which is, of course, the purpose of writing, as well as its principal reward. Fortunately, the act of composition, or creation, disciplines the mind; writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind but supply it, too.” 

book update

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Hello friends and faithful readers. Some of you may be wondering what I’ve been up to these days. Wonder no more!

It’s been a while, but I have an exciting new update on the book I’m writing: The Endless Creative. I’ve finally completed a draft I am proud of and have sent it off to my editor. I may have overshot my planned deadline by over a month, but life happens and it feels good having finally reached this point.

The Endless Creative is about finding purpose through creativity. It follows the journey of the creative as it parallels the three-act story structure and the hero’s journey. It’s something I’m excited about and looking forward to sharing with you all.

For me, writing the book has been a journey in itself and I’m eager to discover what changes my editor suggests (beside the usual spelling and grammar fixes). Though I like it where it is, I know there are many ways it can be improved. I’m just not sure yet which improvements are the best. Really, I’m trying to prep myself for the many changes I expect it’s going to need, and to not become disappointed by it.

Oh yeah, I should mention that the image above is not the final-final cover, but the artwork you see there is about finished. I’m really happy with how it’s turned out and had a great experience working with the artist, Robert Clear.

I just threw on that text for this post. To be honest, I’m no fan of choosing fonts, I prefer to leave that to the pros.

Having focused most of my creativity on getting the book ready for edit, I’m taking some time to celebrate. I often experience a little bit of a letdown after reaching a big milestone, but I’m also learning how important it is to recognize and celebrate big achievements for what they are. And then I need to figure out what’s next.

I have a life coach who has been helping me in that area, keeping me focused and goal-oriented. It’s a new experience for me, and it’s been a good one so far.

Looking to the horizon and what’s up ahead, I’ve been thinking more about this blog, my email list, and what I want to do with them in the future. More on that later. For now, we’ll leave things as they are. As always, I’m open to suggestions and advice.

I do have a short sci-fi story that a publisher is interested in and willing to work with me on. That may be the next big project right now. I’ve got some smaller things as well, but you’ll hear more about them when they’re finished.

Until next time, I hope you are excelling in and completing your creative projects, whatever they may be. If you need help in that area, you should grab my free e-book, Done! which is about that very thing.

And I’d love to hear what sort of creative things have you been working on lately. Feel free to share about them in the comments below.

Creatively yours,

A. P. Lambert

story from a word - part 2

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It’s been a while since I offered up one of these. Based on a writing assignment from my class with David Farland, the goal is to write a brief narrative paragraph based on one word. You may recall my last one, Horse.

Without further ado, here it is, story from a word, Part Deux.

House

To say the building was dilapidated would be a gross understatement. Unlivable would be closer to the truth. Dangerous, now that was a fine word. Its moss-covered roof sagged so low on one side that it could be reached from the ground without the aid of a ladder or step-stool. The glass in its windows had been punched out like decayed teeth long ago. Even the boards once nailed over the windows had now fallen off, leaving the building with an eerie, vacant expression. Most of the steps leading to the entrance were either broken in half or missing altogether. A pathetic pile of bricks now slouched where a chimney once stood. Tangled vines criss-crossed up the rotted-out paneled siding of the house, pulling it down into the swampy earth. Long ago, the building had been constructed from the trees of the bayou and now, it seemed, the bayou wanted its lumber back. And to think, a family once called it home.

 

Give it a try: write your own narrative paragraph based on the word, "house," then share it here. I'd love to see what you come up with.

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

story from a word - part 1

A couple years ago, I took an online writing class from author David Farland. The first assignment required us to create a single paragraph story based on one word. In this assignment, there were seven such words, each requiring their own story. I’d like to share one with you (and perhaps more later). The word for this was “Horse” (of course!)

The golden-brown dappled mare was one of Ike’s favorites. He pictured himself brushing its long, white mane. He admired the same gleaming hair that sprouted around its hooves like thick wool socks. He’d given it the name, “Bucky” because of the way it danced around the stable, kicking high in the air as if about ready to fly. This noble beast, however, did not belong to Ike (as if any man could really claim to own an animal). In truth, its stable was only a pleasant stop on his daily walk to work. This did not keep Ike from imagining himself riding off with Bucky as the light of the sunset gleamed against the creature’s sleek, muscle-bound flanks. As they rode off, Bucky would kick up the dirt of their dusty old town and Ike wouldn’t bother to look back. Later, someone would find his parting gift, a battered orange hard hat, lying on the ground and they'd wonder where he'd gone off to.