The Power of Listening to What Your Practice Demands
January 6, 2017 § 15 Comments
by Beth Franz
“What do you want to achieve by sending your work out?” Allison K Williams asks this of us in her book, Get Published in Literary Magazines, offering three possibilities for consideration: publication (the reward of seeing your name in print), payment (the reward of money in your pocket), and prestige (the reward of being “taken seriously” by virtue of having made it into a publication of some repute). As Williams explains, “Thinking about your ultimate big-picture goal helps you choose where to submit.”
I struggled to make it past Williams’s three choices, none of which seemed to quite fit my situation. Even now, my mind continues to search for my answer to that important question: “What do you want?” (To make things a little more challenging for myself, I decided to stay with Williams’s preoccupation with the letter P.) Here are the answers I’ve arrived at:
- Participation – While writing has always been (and will always be) a way for me to “see” what I am trying to “see,” I want more than that now. I want to find a way to participate in the conversations I see going on around me. I feel as though I’ve been sitting on the sidelines for years – decades, now – watching the other children around me jumping rope, double Dutch to be specific. I’ve been studying when children jump in, how they jump in, how they stay in there, when and how they jump out. I want to take my turn. I want to jump in.
- Put it out there! – Of course, in order to participate, I have to first find the courage needed to do so. That’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? The longer one waits to take one’s turn when it comes to just jumping in there, the scarier the prospect becomes. I didn’t know that. For the longest time, I believed that waiting was making me more prepared. Perhaps it was . . . to a point. But there came a point– maybe it was 10 years ago, maybe it was 20 or 30 years ago – a point beyond which the waiting only led to diminishing returns, for I eventually lost my courage to jump in there at all! To make matters worse, instead of jumping in back in the 1980s or 1990s, when publishing involved primarily printed materials, I kept waiting. And while I waited, the world changed around me. I find myself in a new world today, when any piece that is put out there is subject to being responded to right away, in this digital age we now live in, making me even more hesitant to take a position on anything, for fear of the avalanche of responses my writing might trigger! I have become paralyzed with this fear. Or, equally paralyzing, I encounter a much more powerful piece that’s already out there, beside which my measly piece pales. And again, I lose my courage. I want to find my courage. I know that the only way I can do that is to put out there what I have, warts and all.
- Practice – I have long viewed writing as a practice, something that I engage in the way others engage in prayer or meditation or physical exercise. It is a “practice” in that the doing of it is its own reward. And as is the case with prayer or meditation or physical exercise, the practice of writing also offers collateral benefits that spill over into real life, altering the way I go about the rest of the day’s activities. But my son has recently made me aware of a facet of “practice” I was not aware of.
My son, who was born a full decade and a half after I started my practice as a writer and who will soon turn 23 is a practicing personal trainer. He spent four years in college learning about how the body works and what people can do to increase their physical well being. He recently explained to me that because of the body’s ability to “adapt” to what it is being called on to do, it is important to regularly “adjust” one’s workout. Otherwise, the body – in its wisdom – adapts so well to what the muscles are being asked to do that they no longer benefit in the same way. It is as though the body is “too smart for its own good.” That’s where the personal trainer can help.
My son’s words got me to thinking. A lot has been written about the practice of writing. I have been a disciple of both Natalie Goldberg’s “The Rules of Writing Practice” and Julia Cameron’s “The Morning Pages” at different times over the last several decades. There have even been times when I find myself agreeing with those who claim that the best practice is NOT one in which the writer feels obligated to write every day; rather, the best practice is the one in which the writer learns to listen, deeply, to herself: to write when she has something to say and to stay silent when she does not.
But what my son’s words helped me realize is that the most beneficial constant in any practice is the practitioner’s willingness to be ever-changing in her approach to her practice. The dedication has to be to the practice itself, not to the specific form the practice takes at any given time.
Just as the personal trainer must find ways to outsmart the body that knows so well how to “adapt” to the exercises it is being put through, so too must I find ways to outsmart my own writer within, who knows so well how to “play” whatever game she believes I am playing with her. My practice demands that I find ways to participate, to put out there what writing has enabled me to “see” for myself.
Beth Franz is a practicing writer and sculptor; a parent, partner, and educator; closer to the age of 60 than she can believe. She plans on doing everything in her power to become a published writer in 2017.