Weekend Reads: practice a life worth living.

A few months ago we shared a short film by Vimeo user Frohlocke, which visually captured part of a series of interviews Ira Glass did with Public Radio International about storytelling. It was sort of like a lyrics video for a pop song that didn’t stink.

The part the video tackled dealt predominantly with taste—but taste as a gauge for how far one’s ability is from one’s aspirations. That, Glass claimed, was “The Gap”: the physical distance between one’s perceived understanding of what makes something good, and one’s ability to actually make something good.

Why physical? Because the way to close that Gap is simple: through hard work.

…the most important possible thing you could do, is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. …Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up, that you’re going to close that gap.

Through practice.

For any creative person—and thus for any storyteller—practice means diligence, doing something enough and wading through enough failure to eventually come upon something extraordinary.

But practice is more than that:

Practice is about being aware: listening as a function of discovery, and understanding patience as the difference between good and great.

Which is why here at Story & Heart we see experience as a storyteller’s best teacher: simply go out, take a camera, and explore your world.

Do this: over and over over.

Practice a life worth living.

Because you’ll learn so much more about yourself and your craft than you ever would by reading a text book or watching a movie.

Speaking of reading: here are 4 recent reads we’ve encountered which treat practice as an art unto itself.

1. “What It Really Means To Practice”

Care of James Shotwell at Medium.

Practice as little more than a verb seems easy enough: repetition. Sort of like teaching your muscles (and your mind) to know something so well you don’t even have to think about whatever it is you’re doing—over and over and over.

But James Shotwell takes the idea of practice so much more seriously. To him, practice must be more than just structured and consistent, it must be vigilant. It is not only doing, but always considering—truly being mindful—of what one is doing: practicing with purpose.

Our basic instincts tell us to move forward and continue creating, but it’s supremely important we do not give in to these urges and instead spend time reflecting on just what it is we are doing with our time and minds…
Practice forces us to look at our art and question whether or not we are representing ourselves to the best of our own abilities.

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Talk about being mindful: pianist Madeline Buser wrote a whole book about practice as a measure of developing not just as an artist, but as a full, considerate, functional human being. Appropriately, she called it The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music from the Heart.

In this interview with Dana Fleur, Buser discusses the process behind her own process, and how practice is so much more than constantly learning how to do something better—practice is a process of noticing nuance, of paying attention to details, in order to become an authority on your craft, and, ultimately, to become a teacher.

The challenge for students...is to pay meticulous attention to technical and musical details. That's where our resistance becomes apparent: we all have our ways of ignoring details in music just as in living our lives, and my job is to notice a student's blind spots and to help them understand what they're missing…
It's like teaching them a new language: they absorb it both by osmosis and by careful analysis, until eventually they can just speak it, they can just do it. Then I encourage them to go out and teach it themselves.

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3. “Episode 17: Dave & Laura Coleman”

Care of Ten Thousand Hours.

This is obviously a “listen” and not a “read”, but the points made by Grant and Vince over at Ten Thousand Hours are much too plangent—way too inspirational—to not share. Plus, this will probably take just as long to listen to as it will to read much of what we’ve listed here.

In fact, the podcast is itself kind of perfect—at least in the “practice makes” sense. It’s a series “about craft, creativity and putting in our time.” In other words, Ten Thousand Hours interviews creative people to see what makes them tick: not just what inspires them, but the process they plod through to get where they are. How do they practice?

In the most recent episode, Grant and Vince talk to Dave and Laura Coleman, founders of Australian-based design studio and creative community, The AGSC. The duo are more than happy to share their slow, deliberate process toward delivering designs to clients, but mostly are just honest about why practice isn’t only important, it’s crucial: because you will never, ever be perfect.  

Dave: “...we’re sort of learning so much as we go. I think that’s one of the beautiful things about design is that I don’t think you’ve ever really got it licked. Something that’s especially really cool is how much other designers seem to be happy to help their fellow designers. So we’re just learning all the time from people, whether it’s articles or whatever…”
Laura: “The way that we do things now is completely different from how we did it before…”
Vince: “That’s perfect though: always evolving.”

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4. “Instructions for a Dérive”

Care of Pedestrian City.

In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drops their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and lets themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.
"The Naked City" by Guy Debord

"The Naked City" by Guy Debord

Based on the theories of artist and philosopher Guy Debord, a derive is exactly what the practitioners at Pedestrian City claim: a literal “drift”—or allowing one’s environment to completely and wholly dictate all movement, purpose, aim, and destination. While their description is steeped in the heady jargon of Debord's theories—especially psychogeography, or mapping one's environment through memory—their intent is simple.

A dérive is practice at its purest: experiencing a moment and a place for the sake of it. In this sense, there is no better way to be aware—to totally devote oneself to discovery.

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If you have any articles or good reads about how practicing doesn’t make perfect, but it does get you really close—please share in the comments below. This is what we'll be reading this weekend. What about you?