Make Writing a Practice

“Listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice.” – Allen Iverson, 2002

Outside of writing, my one most consistent hobby over the years has been playing basketball.  For the past six years, I’ve been a part of an ever-changing group of guys that gets together once a week to shoot hoops at a local gym.  There’s a few hard-liners from when I arrived on the scene — men who are now in their forties or fifties and have been playing together since long before I knew any of them.  When I was showing up regularly, getting my shots in, and taking care of everything else, I was playing good basketball — not the best of my life, but far better than you’d expect for someone who’d spent the better part of a decade away from the game.

Now, as one of the relative old-timers, I’ve seen a lot of players come and go.  A few years ago, a trio of brothers started playing with us.  The baby brother, one who was far more athletic than his older brothers, was like a puppy running across the court.  Then in his early twenties, he had only fairly recently picked up basketball as a hobby, and it showed.  He could run circles around most of us old codgers, could nearly touch the rim from a standing start, and had some of the quickest hands and feet in the gym.  Sure, he’d draw blood half of the time he tried to steal the ball, but there was no getting around this kid’s athleticism.  The problem was that he didn’t know basketball.  He’d pick up the ball and travel half of the time he tried to drive to the basket, and you didn’t need to defend him for any shot outside of (maybe) ten feet; you simply needed to box him out for the miss.  Even lay-ups were somewhat of a 50-50 proposition.

After the brothers were established as regulars, they started to miss a few games; months passed by and I didn’t see the little brother.  Part of it came down to a few absences on my part, and part of it came down to a change in his work schedule.  Then, one day, he was back on the court.  I was guarding him, and he pulled up from about 20-feet away (we don’t have a three point arc, so it’s tough to say).  I waited for the shot release and immediately boxed him out.  There was no need.  Swish.  A few plays later, he tried the same thing, but I was guarding him for the shot.  He put the ball on the floor, and got around me.  A friend came over to help me on defense, and this young man pulled up for a fifteen footer.  Maybe he banked it in, I don’t remember.  What I do remember is thinking “uh-oh, now this guy can shoot.  What do I do now?”

At the end of the night, after he finished piling up the points, I asked him if he’d been working on his shot.  He said “not particularly, but I’ve been playing every day.”

Sometimes, I forget how much impact an everyday habit can make. However, seeing this young man go from a “kid” who looked like he’d never played the game to a legitimate scoring threat made me realize that many of the players on the floor were still improving because they were able to get there on the hardwood/blacktop every day.  Writing is very much like playing pick-up basketball every day.  You won’t win every time, and there’s a lot of “meaningless games” in between you and your goal, but turning in 100 words per day or 2,000 words per day will help you become a better writer — eventually.

In retrospect about the past decade of writing, I think that the best writing that I’ve ever done came when I was committing 2,000 words per day to paper.   Not all of it was beautiful, and only about two-thirds of it survives, but I was a far better writer because I practiced.  If you haven’t yet made writing every day a habit, do yourself a favor and try it. You’ll thank yourself later.

(And, because basketball related puns are mandatory… “Give it a shot!”)


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