Practice Makes Perfect Makes Quitters
I have a new friend, and her name is Mary Fons. I don’t know for sure that Mary is real. The reason I don’t know is that she literally lights up rooms. Like, the room will be dark, and Mary will walk in, and then the room will be light. When I spend time with her, she melts away the hours in my day so I feel confused about where they went. These are super powers, and real people don’t have super powers, so I’m not sure that Mary is a real person. She is a celebrity quilter. She keeps a blog.
Mary updates her blog all the time. This is a thing I used to do, too, before I started to believe that my writing had to be somehow more important than it had been. I saw some success with some illustrated essays, and got it into my head that everything I wrote had to be a brilliant, cohesive, moral-grounded illustrated essay. Everything I wrote — even the short things I put on my blog — had to come with a life lesson and a colorful anecdote and loads of time-sucking scanned watercolor images. A blog post was not worth it if 10,000 people did not read it. A blog post could not be just a blog post.
Mary’s blog posts are great. She’s very funny and — this, I think, is key — succinct. I read her blog. Lots of people do. She is a celebrity quilter (remember?) and she has a following of doting fans who also believe she lights up rooms (although they may not be lucky enough to share as many rooms with Mary as I am).
In middle school, I kept my blog in the form of an AOL email ‘zine that I mailed out to, at one point, 5,000 subscribers. (This is crazy for me to think about, now, too. THE INTERNET IS AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN A MAGICAL LAND WHERE THE IMPOSSIBLE CAN HAPPEN.) In high school, I moved myself to the rapidly expanding internet, and took out real estate on first one, and then two LiveJournals. I kept the latter LiveJournal into college, when I got an internship at The Nation and thought I should have a “real” “website.” I started a WordPress blog called “Upside Down Again” (it no longer exists and everything that I wrote there is, tragically, gone forever), where I wrote “political” “commentary” every day. Then when I was no longer working at a progressive magazine, I felt less political and came back down to earth, starting a BlogSpot blog upon my post-collegiate arrival in New Orleans. It was called “Big Easy Sophie” and it had a goal: It was meant to track my fun-ness levels, because I felt I had gotten un-fun following a college break-up. Then I moved that blog onto a website called The New Storyville (gone forever), and onto one called Neutrons Protons (which became something else entirely), and finally I landed where I am now. It has been long life of writing about myself in the hopes that strangers might be interested in me.
Or, I thought that I needed strangers to be interested in me. But actually, as I am reflecting now from my high “I’m-a-real-writer” perch (on which, it should be noted, I am perfectly terrified), I think that maybe I just needed to be writing. The internet lets you publish all the time. Once something is published, it’s done. You can move onto the next thing. The old thing is not floating around in the world of material-to-be-edited — material that is not yet perfect, but has the nebulous potential to be.
I am a big advocate of the phrase “practice makes practice.” (This is not a real phrase; I made it up myself. If you want to talk to me about getting t-shirts done, let's chat.) Practice is, in my opinion, one of the great joys of being alive. Practice for the sake of practice — not to perfect anything, not even necessarily to “get better” — is beautiful and strange. Practice changes you. It takes you places. But there’s a catch: Practice holds out a pretty tempting poison apple that seems to indicate that there is, at the end of some invisible ladder, a thing called perfection.
This is a dangerous idea, because the notion that in practice you are working toward perfection is exactly the attitude that makes people stop practicing. It’s the menacing little voice that says, “That thing you’re making is not good enough yet. You have to keep working on it until it is perfect.” But then you get kind of tired of the thing you're working on, and you never finish it. The thing you're making gets added to a heap of other things you started to make, but couldn't finish because they were somehow never good enough. The “practice makes perfect” saying, I think, is missing its ending: “'Practice makes perfect’ makes quitters.”
I am sad that I quit updating my blog because I thought it had to be more than it was. It used to be just words and, if I felt like it, gossip. It used to be my mark-making; my practice. I loved to put the words down and I loved to send them out into the world so I could move onto the next thing. I got a taste of traditional “success,” and I became too scared to do the kind of writing — fast and imperfect — that I have always, always loved.