'Taking notes the old fashioned way, pen on paper' photo (c) 2008, Fang Guo - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/I’m a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my art. Okay, maybe more than a little bit. But aren’t most of us?

This is less true in other areas of my life. Rules are made to be loosely interpreted. (the speed limit is really 5 mph over the sign, right?) The inside of my car is a wreck half the time. (the other half being when I can’t stand it anymore and throw everything in a bag) My beloved book collection is so unorganized I sometimes discover things I forgot I had. (Hey, Oliver Twist! Who knew?)
But writing, ahh… that’s another thing. I fuss and I fret and I read it about 50 times, looking for grammar errors and punctuation and mixed metaphors. Letting go is such a struggle. It’s even worse with poetry, because there, in perhaps more than any other form of writing, everything hinges on the right words, the right rhythm, the right line breaks and feeling.

The other day, I was flipping through one of my notebooks, the one I take to the occasional writing class or seminar I happen to find, and rediscovered a little advice from a workshop I attended a few months ago. When asked how you know when a poem is done and ready, Ilya Kaminsky gave this advice: “It’s not. It’s ready when you’re tired of working on it.”

(Read that again, but with a Russian accent and a good sense of humor. It was wonderful.)

It reminded me a little bit too of a post on Jeff Goins’ blog advising writers to practice, not just secretly, in notebook scribbles and dreams, but boldly, out loud, free to mess up and keep learning:

“Real writers practice… I’m not talking about rehearsal. I’m talking about doing what musicians and boxers and lion tamers all do in order to get ready for their work. To become awesome at their crafts.  

They practice in public  

In other words, they perform. They go to work. Get stuff done. They stop stalling and playing around and actually do the stuff.”

That’s a blow to my perfectionistic pride if I ever saw one. Practice in public? Yeah, that’s terrifying.

It’s also so incredibly freeing and healthy.

One way I’ve attempted to practice out loud was joining a Twitter poetry chat hosted by TweetSpeak Poetry a couple weeks ago, a sort of poetry jam where prompts were given and 13 writers tossed lines and fragments into the chat, riffing on each other’s ideas.

It freaked. me. out. At first, anyway. Finally, after lurking for some time, I dashed off a quick line and threw it out there. Before long, I was caught in the little word-storm, and watching beautiful things happen. Everyone was so talented and the work was so beautifully raw, and when I finally worked up the nerve to offer something, it was such a rush.

It was practicing out loud. And very good for the soul.

Twelve stunning poems were later woven from all of that, which you can read here and here. I took a few bits and wrote my own piece, “Hum.” It’s astonishing to see such beauty born of chaos, but perhaps that’s the nature of creation.

All this to say… find a way to practice out loud this week. Whatever your craft is, whatever scares you, do it. And then, perhaps, come back and let me know how it goes.

There is art inside you, and the world is waiting for it.

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