Practice is hard work that results in freedom

As any thespian can tell you, at the beginning of the rehearsal process, everything feels kludgy. Lines must be memorized and blocking (the moves made around the stage) learned. Questions get answered. Acrobatics, dance moves, magic tricks acquired. Songs sung until even the box office personnel ban the music from their space. As the actors near readiness, the technicians appear with sets, lights, and sound. “Techs” learn their own dance moves as the actors become familiar with the new elements.

Everything must be practiced until each word, movement, and emotion is automatic. All theatre workers will tell you about this phenomenon. How practice moves the art inside of you, so that you can be dancing on a tightrope and considering what you’ll have for dinner at the same time. So you can be directing a spotlight with pinpoint accuracy while laughing hysterically (and silently) at a joke told over the headsets. So you can be ushering people to their seats and simultaneously writing a musical. [Strange Loop –]

In this space where the movement and the words and the tricks are infused into your body, this is where the freedom begins. Where creativity bubbles up and overflows into deeper emotional resonance, funnier jokes, light cues that pop perfectly with the music and make the audience gasp.

This freedom isn’t restricted to theatre, either. Practice in any medium leads to a mastery that encourages your creativity to flow freely. In preparation for a sock class, I knitted several examples of socks at varying stages of doneness over the course of two weeks. By the time I’d knitted the thousands of stitches necessary, my hands had relaxed so that instead of needing larger needles to get the correct gauge, I could automatically knit to the gauge listed on the yarn and pattern. And my first sock design soon bobbled to the surface of my mind. [Loud Mouth Socks –]

Each work day, I practice rough drafting. Sitting down to a blank page and getting words onto it is difficult for me, even when I resolve to make all of those words imperfect and absolutely terrible. My practice includes starting the day with fifteen minutes of random, crappy journaling. I even protect my ridiculousness by using the same file, which I call “Morning Pages.” Every session starts with me highlighting and erasing the words I wrote the day before. It’s a reminder for the rest of my day—that anything can be edited, destroyed, and begun anew. That this blank page is a safe space to write all my thoughts, explore curiosities, play with language. A space where my creativity can glop out in imperfect spatters.

Any skill can be practiced until it becomes automatic. And, strangely enough, all of the hard work, the discipline, the dedication to schedules, and rigid adherence to the mechanics of craft frees your creativity and allows it the space to spread its wings and fly.