Mark Terry

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


May 4, 2010
The other day, instead of my usual sanchin-ryu (karate) workout which tends to be going over everything I know a couple times, I took the ninth form, Empi-uraken, and just focused on it. In all, I think I did it about 13 times in a row at different speeds, trying different things, trying to make sure I didn't lose my balance on the spin (easier said than done) and that what I wanted to do is what my body actually did (also easier said than done).

For the last month or so, my guitar teacher has been having me write music, primarily, I think, to develop an understanding of chord progressions and how to develop solos. But I did a progression in A and he suggested I develop a solo based on the A major scale. It became obvious that although I had worked on major scales, I didn't really own the concept. So I pretty much tossed the developing-a-solo idea out the window and just practiced the A major scale all week. And in yesterday's lesson Gary and I agreed that it was a good time for me to really master various scales, particularly since I was in a mood to do "woodshedding," which means to hone certain skills (presumably by going out to the woodshed where you can have some privacy and concentrate on what you're doing). Most amateur musicians (and maybe pros) would rather do just about anything than scale exercises for a couple weeks, but I've been this route before and understand that in order to get to the next level in my guitar playing I need to really master these. So probably for the next couple weeks the only thing I'll be playing are scales. I did something similar last year with barre chords. It was worth the tedium (and I would probably benefit from another round of it as a refresher, actually).

Is there something similar with writing? Maybe. There's a concept in most arts and trades that it requires 10,000 hours to master something. In writing many people say 1 million words. I'm pretty much in agreement, although there are definitely some people that need less (and apparently some that need more, perhaps an infinity more).

I'm not sure there's an equivalent in writing to doing scales, but I think there's a lot to be said about sitting your ass in a chair and writing something, whether it's a blog, your book, a short story, and not just knocking it off, but applying some real concentration to the job of improving your skills. In fact, the intention to make it better, to really put a critical eye to what you do, learn to rewrite, tear things apart and see if maybe writing a scene all in dialogue or all in prose or cutting out all the adverbs or writing it from a different point of view, IS woodshedding for writers--or perhaps "wordshedding" is more appropriate.

What do you think? Is there woodshedding for writers?


Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I adore scales. :-) I used to do an hour or more of scales and technique every morning, first thing when I got up. It was very meditative. It's not mindless, but it's repetitive work that gives you a break from the fully mind-engaged, more passionate playing.

Which is something I've often wondered about writing. In piano, you can alternate repetitive work and "on" work, and I'm not sure there's an equivalent in writing. It's full-mind-on, all the time. I wish there was a more meditative, repetitive practice for writing that I could slip into, sometimes. I don't know that there is.

6:34 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I understand completely. I've never really minded scales either. Meditative is a good description of it.

And no, I really don't find an exactly equivalent in writing, although "practice, practice, practice" comes close.

6:41 AM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

This is a very intriguing concept. I have no music training at all except some singing. But there's a lot of "scales" in making art, painting, drawing, etc. Most artists have reams of drawings, often of the same subject. For instance, when I was a kid I drew horses. Literally thousands of horses. I still can knock off a decent horse in no time. Ditto photography. You have to take a million photos I bet to really start getting it right.

Hmm, writing. I'm not sure. I'm going to think about it.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

I think with writing it is difficult to separate technique from content so as to practice only technique. I suppose you could, say, write a description of a thing, or character, unrelated to a story but how useful would that be. In my case, I'm not big on technique but I suspect I should more often put stuff aside and then go back and be a little more diligent about rewriting.

3:53 PM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

Sure, maybe "exercises" are like scales, but when so many of us have time issues, it's tough to recommend.

So I'm going with reading and the thought patterns that develop when writers read.

10:58 AM  

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