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But Can You Dance To It?

June 25, 2015

I know why the rose has thorns
I know why the thistle stings
I know why the caged bird sings
But, I wish I didn’t know these things
I wish I didn’t know

I write music. Is it any good? I don’t know. I think the lyrics are pretty good, but the tunes typically are simplistic. 

I have written software programs. Were they any good? I don’t know. I did some commission work for a few friends, but for the most part I figured out I didn’t want to be a programmer.

I write blogs, newspaper articles, books. Are they any good? I don’t know. You guys show up to read these scribblings. My editor prints most of the columns I write. But, I haven’t published a book in twenty years. 

I have a friend, Rodney Norman, who is a stand-up comedian. I asked him,

Do you think it’s possible to teach people to be funny?

You can go to a basketball camp to learn to dribble better, but it won’t make you Michael Jordan.

His answer was important for what it said about the creative process. We can all get better by practicing skills. 

Many people want to know, “How do I become a writer?” The answer is always the same: Write. 

How do I learn to develop characters in my fiction writing? Write.

How do I learn to create more impactful essays? Write.

How do I (fill in the blank) in writing? Write.

The same is true for programming. 

How do I learn to write more efficient code? Write code.

How do I learn to create better subclasses in my code? Write code.

How do I (fill in the blank) in coding? Write code.

How do I become a better public speaker? Speak.

How do I become a better song writer? Write more songs.

How do I become a funnier stand-up comedian? Get up on stage and tell jokes.

How do I become a better basketball player? Play basketball.

Now, you’re saying, 

Rodney, that’s crazy. How do I even start? Suppose I had never played basketball? 

That’s where training and classes come in. 

Practice does not make perfect.
Perfect practice makes perfect. 

You can take classes that will teach you grammar, and sentence structure, and setup line, punchline, tagline in comedy. But, those classes are like getting ready for a hike and first checking a map. Yesterday, I went on an 8 mile mountain bike ride with our scout troop. The other two leaders are both experienced mountain bikers and have ridden through our hills many time. 

At one point we went down a long steep trail. As we got to the bottom, the scoutmaster, who had gone down first turned to Brian, the assistant scoutmaster.

So, do we just follow this trail to Cedar Hills? 

I don’t know, I don’t normally go this way.

Our options at that point were to go back up the steep hill we had just ridden down so we could go the way Brian knew, or to push on down an unfamiliar trail. For someone just out for a pleasure ride, that might not be an issue. And we weren’t actually “lost.” The mountain was to our right and the town was to our right. 

But, would the trail we were on eventually peter out and we’d have to backtrack? Would it become too advanced for the 12 year-old scouts? We were also miles into a ride that had no water sources, and it was 98 degrees. Knowing the trail ahead was an important “skill.”

You get better at mountain biking by riding. However, the preparation, the “classes” are the process of scouting the trail and consulting maps. We pushed on and eventually found our way back to a familiar trail.

The better a person is at something, the easier it looks.

I love to teach. I’ve had some success. I’ve also had my share of critics. 

All Rodney did was get up there and tell us what was in the book!

Ironically, I had also written the book. But, the point was my critic complained that what I was doing wasn’t hard. I just stood up and talked about the content from the book. However, I later had an opportunity to see that person try to “stand up and tell what’s in the book.” It’s harder than it looks. 

When I write music, the writing process mimics the way I approach other creative processes. There are times when a song simply flows. I have an idea and then I sit down and write it out essentially from beginning to end. Other times, I have an idea or part of an idea and I write that bit. Then, I find another bit and add that. And then I struggle to bridge the two together. Then, I tweak both parts to make them better fit. 

I’ve just desribed the exact same process I use in writing blog entries, or newspaper articles, or programs. It’s also the process that programmers, speech writers and stand-up comics use.

I think that’s part of the reason many programmers and computer people are also musicians. The creative process is very similar whether you are creating a piece of music, programming code, writing speeches or creating a stand-up comedy routine.

But, you can only dance to one of them.

Here’s a song I wrote called “Body And Soul.” 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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