In my last post I talked about the time it typically takes to develop your voice, and to make anything as good as what you see in your head. That time is, for the most part, spent practicing.
Practicing can be, but is not necessarily, creating. Deliberate, focused practice is the path to mastery, and this is largely not done by writing songs or painting paintings. It is practicing daily scales and doing studies of the birds in your back yard, or practicing color mixing or creating texture with a pallette knife. Most of what keeps people from practicing deliberately isn’t physical or technical hardship, it’s emotional.
Deliberate practice creates an emotional wave.
At first, you experience the high of going from 0 to 1, which is a really large step and the most important one. It’s satisfying, you feel accomplished right away. And you should! Later on in your practice and on a smaller scale, this can be compared to the moment you’ve had your breakfast and made your coffee and gotten your supplies out and sat down at your desk. This is possibly the most accomplished you’ll feel the rest of the day.
Then, and this period varies wildly depending on your goals and constitution, you hit the crux. It could happen after one minute or after one year of focused work. This is when it hits you, and I mean really hits you like a tidal wave, and you realize your strength compared to that of the ocean. Suddenly you get an inkling (and if an inkling alone is crushing...) of just how far you are from where you want to be, how much work and time it’s going to take to get there, and the reality that you’ll never “arrive” and you just have to build a strong enough boat to head in the direction you're aiming for.
The crux is the part that people don’t progress beyond. It is so easy and understandable to give up once you realize there is no way to win, only to play. Our society values results. Ends. Packages. Measurable progress. Most trades don’t provide this sort of satisfaction, especially creative ones.
Everyone’s different, and there are a lot of ogres that leap from the bridge of the crux (and it is a bridge.) There’s perfectionistic paralysis, where you’re so terrified that what you make won’t be up to par (and it probably won’t) that you never sit down and start. There’s the egotism/deprication paradox, where you expect to make something good and valuable immediately without hard work or practice, then feel so ashamed when you don’t that you never sit back down again. There’s the sense of unworthiness, where you figure there’s already so much (x) in the world, and what could you possibly contribute, and why would an expression from you be so valuable anyway. I’ll delve into these ugly obstacles and more in future posts.
But before you know it (really, suddenly you just realize you’ve been in a new place for a while), you’re to the other side. And that’s not to say you’ve arrived and now you’re done facing obstacles, it’s just to say that you’re out of the valley and across the bridge and into the mountains now. There will be peaks and crevaces and vistas and caves. Now, you’ve been at it long enough and with enough dedication that your “bad” is still pretty good. It becomes less about getting a handle on the base skills associated with your craft: coordination, technique, muscle memory, translation, showing up, etc. and more about growing and expanding. Now you’re talking in a language. You can see what your vocal range is and learn an infinite number of songs to sing into the hills. At this point the emotional upheaval is not gone, but lessened because you’re developing a sense of mastery. Your direction and the ways you push yourself are dictated less by desires and fears, and more by inspiration and experimentation.
Practice is the only way to climb beyond the crux. but it never ends, only changes.