As someone who has been writing [practically] her entire life, I never think of sitting down and typing out a few fictional sentences as “practicing.” In gymnastics, you get better by doing so many cartwheels you feel like your arms are going to fall off. (Personal experience? Maybe.) In music, you get better by singing until your diaphragm hurts, or blowing into your flute until…yeah, your diaphragm still hurts.
It’s easy to detect progress when you’re flipping around on a mat or glued to a piano bench in a practice room. Growing as a writer is harder to evaluate. And marking progress requires reading through (and cringing in response to) old material, understanding your current style, and even brainstorming ways to incorporate habits you liked but lost into habits you developed and kept.
It’s not easy. But that’s why we practice.
And practicing doesn’t just mean cranking out one novel after another until you have a figurative stack of unpublished books taking up space on your hard drive. It means writing all the time, every day, even if it’s one sentence about a purple kangaroo living in a dying mango tree. (You can discard sentences you don’t like. Sometimes it’s better for everyone.)
What does this not mean? It does not mean forcing yourself to write when you don’t want to. It does not mean typing out a dozen more pages of a story just because you want to make progress. It does not mean making your art come out of the shadows when it’s not ready to emerge.
The past few years, I’ve been busy enough with school that I’ve only started an average of two novels a year: one in November and one in July. I’m not constantly turning idea streamers into pompoms into cheerleaders into high school-dictating cliques that banish traitors for dating mathletes. I write articles for an online magazines and for my school’s newspaper. I’m part of a team that covers stories and captions for our yearbook. Hey, I even blog a little, occasionally.
Bottom line: I’m always writing. If it’s not one of the things mentioned above, it’s stringing together a literary analysis or research source review for a class. Any kind of writing is still writing. It’s still taking words from the brain and putting them on paper. It’s still practicing.
You may not think you’re anything but a novel-writing machine. But what the professional world is looking for is not a writer who has perfected the art of literary fiction. They’re searching for writers who can sit down, choose a medium, and come up with a lead, conclusion, and a whole lot of factual and entertaining content in-between.
Write everything. Everywhere. That’s how born writers become successful writers.