Practice = Performance = Practice

What’s the difference between “practice” and “performance”?

Just to throw out some basic definitions for the purpose of this post: Both words refer to performing some sort of activity that requires skill. It could be playing the piano, writing a webcomic, programming, whatever. “Practice” is when someone performs an activity primarily for the purpose of increasing their skill. “Performance” is when someone has another specific purpose in mind—Perhaps this activity is something they do for money, like a professional musician playing at a club. Perhaps it’s a skill exercised as part of their job, like a software developer writing a program, or perhaps they are creating some work, like writing a novel. (Notably, creating something is a “performance” that results in a tangible product, like a story that may be sold.)

How does one practice a skill? By performing it, mostly. Sometimes there are drills or exercises that are used for practice but are unlike performances; pianists will play scales, for example, which are boring to listen to. More interesting are creative endeavors, like writing. One practices writing by writing…and every time you write, you end up with a piece of writing.

There may be value in these bits of writing. Not that this is anything new; I suspect most people who get into writing assume that everything they write is ultimately intended for publication. Is it possible to write “exercises” that are never intended for publication, but only to increase one’s writing skills? Of course; it’s probably even a good idea. And yet…One of those odd bits of writing just might be worth something to the right journal. Every bit of practice is also a potential performance.

Let’s look at this from the other side. Let’s imagine someone writing with the intent to sell what they’re writing. Do they learn, do they develop their skills while performing this activity? Of course they do! Every instance of performing a skill results in that skill being improved. It’s easy to see this is by reading the archives of a newspaper comic strip that has been drawn for decades by the same person; the improvement in art over the years is obvious. However, I’m not saying you should simply expect your work to get better and better with no slipups; it’s probably more valuable to stretch yourself and try things that might not work. Every creative work attempted by an artist increases their skill, even if it ultimately turns out to be a failure. Especially if it turns out to be a failure! Every performance is also a practice session.

My conclusion, therefore, is that you (yes, you) should look upon performance and practice as the same thing. Create things, stretch your skills, try out new ideas, create things. Any project you create can stand on its own as a work of art—and it can also be viewed as an opportunity to develop, a set of lessons for your skills. Don’t be afraid to embrace all these possibilities. Go forth and create!

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