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May 28 / Geoff Young

Find your own woodshed and refine your writing chops

In the late-’50s/early-’60s, legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins stopped recording for three years and honed his chops playing on the Williamsburg Bridge in New York. He was already an accomplished musician but felt that he could improve with dedicated practice.

Some people, faced with a similar mismatch between actual and desired skill levels, might consider this a bump in the road. The trouble with “bump in the road” as a metaphor is that it focuses too much on the bump and not enough on the road.

Bumps give the road character and make the journey more satisfying. The ability to continue onward despite those bumps brings a satisfaction that wouldn’t exist without them.

I’ve been rereading old writing books that informed my work 20 years ago. The goal is to recapture what has been lost and/or to discover what I didn’t know was even there. Natalie Goldberg’s early books helped guide me after college, and they are helping again now.

Revisiting her material has been a rewarding experience, as has been revisiting my own awkward attempts from that time. Perspectives change, and much of what I wrote then no longer makes sense to me, although I recognize it as my own.

Goldberg is, among many other things in life, a Zen Buddhist. She talks a lot about beginner’s mind, which is crucial in creating any art. It is the ability to see things with a fresh eye, as if for the first time.

This becomes increasingly difficult as life experience fills us with preconceptions, but it is necessary if we are to connect with others who have not yet been burdened with such experience. The best way I know to do this is by practicing my craft and always striving to improve.

Rollins visited a bridge. Other musicians visit the “woodshed” to refine their chops. Writers aren’t all that different from musicians. Find your bridge, your woodshed, and get busy.

Don’t worry about the bumps, just keep going. You will arrive. Even if you don’t end up where you expected to be, it will have been one hell of a ride.

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Geoff Young writes for Padres Public and Baseball Prospectus. This post first appeared on Facebook and is republished with his permission.