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In which John tries to go off script and discusses his love of the many-splendored verb "to practice." Old-school vlogbrothers video here. Hope you enjoy it.

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Good morning, Hank, it's Tuesday.  You know, it's been years, several of them actually, since I turned on this camera without knowing what I was gonna talk about.  Maybe I'll talk about that.  

So when I was starting out as a writer, someone told me that when Ray Bradbury was asked how to write a good short story, he said, "Write one short story every week for a year, because nobody can write 52 bad short stories," and I really took that advice to heart but two things: 1) Having now been asked that question a lot, I suspect that what Ray Bradbury was trying to do  was not so much offer good advice as make the question go away in a clever and gentle manner and also 2) Lots of people can write 52 bad short stories in a row.  I mean, I could, as anybody who's read my zombie cornpocalypse stories can attest, but the thing that's true about Bradbury's advice is that you have to practice. 

Now, practice is one of those English words with like, 52 different meanings, some of which contradict each other, like in a sports context, practice is what you do to prepare for the real thing, but in other contexts, practice is the real thing as when you practice medicine or practice the dark arts or I guess in the case of Madam Pomfrey, potentially sometimes both.  

So I was very fortunate to begin my writing career as a book reviewer writing 175 word book reviews for Booklist magazine.  This forced me to read a lot but also to read really broadly.  Picture books and young adult novels and romance novels set in Scottish castles and Islamic history and books about boxing and poetry and yes, also many books about conjoined twins, and that meant lots of practice in both the aforementioned context, not just practice reading but also reading with an eye toward what kind of experience the book offered and to whom I might recommend it, and reviewing also forced me to practice writing in 175 word units and by practicing that form over and over again, I learned how to insert a bit of nuance into plot summary or which detail or quotation to choose.

I also developed a weird internal clock for knowing what 175 words feels like, like I know it's been about 175 words since I said Madam Pomfrey, which is in no way useful, but the other stuff has been very useful because while writing a book review is very different from writing a novel, I already had a lot of practice at thinking about what stories can do and how they do it, and reviewing also brought a lot of structure and discipline to my life.  It taught me that I had to make writing a practice if I wanted to be good at it.  

I should say I'm not like a naturally disciplined or organized person, as best expressed by my car, which is extremely messy.  Like, my dear friend Hassan once commented that every time he walks up to the passenger side of my car, he expects to see a rat sitting in the passenger seat holding a little handbag saying, "Where are we going today?"  I am very messy and undisciplined and I love to procrastinate but I have also learned to love practice, because it works.  

It doesn't work immediately, like in the early days of reviewing books, I often finished a book with no idea of what I wanted to say about it.  In the early days of making vlogbrothers videos, I often ran up against deadlines because I didn't have ideas for videos, but over years of practice, that starts to change.  Like, people often ask me if I ever run out of ideas for vlogbrothers videos and I suppose that I do, but by making this a consistent practice for over 13 years now, in the same way my brain just kinda knows what 175 words looks like, my brain just kinda knows that starting Saturday, if it doesn't have an idea, it needs to find one, and so my brain starts working on it, thinking about what I wanna learn this week, what's been bothering me, where I'm finding hope if I'm finding it, maybe it's time for a silly video, maybe I shouldn't script one, and it keeps working until I've had an idea and after so many years, I almost always have one by Monday night.

So for me, making things doesn't lead to me using up all my ideas.  The practice of finding and expressing thought leads to more thoughts, so whether I'm editing a video or recording a podcast or writing a novel, what I'm really doing and what I really love is practicing.  Hank, thanks for practicing with me.  I'll see you on Friday.