writing, Writing advice

Deliberate Practice (Part One)

I’ve written before about the 10,000 hour rule, which states that virtually all who excel in their chosen avocation, from Bill Gates to Michael Jordan to The Beatles, only reach that level by putting in 10,000 hours of practice first. They only seem to become overnight successes because all those hours of practice largely go unnoticed by the public. Whether this theory is true or not, whether you actually have to devote yourself to 10,000 actual hours of practice, I cannot say, but it certainly makes sense. In the real world, people just don’t become overnight successes. Oh, there are few that get extremely lucky, or have friends in high places, but they are rare and almost never last very long.

I don’t know about you, but my goal as a writer is not to be a flash-in-the-pan.

So I need to practice. I need to practice writing. But there is practice and then there is practice.

The author of the article I was reading when I came across this (sorry, but I can’t remember your name or even where on the web I stumbled across it. Believe me, I would give you credit if I could find you again.) used basketball as an example. He presented two players practicing their jump shots. One would take a shot, retrieve the basketball, take another shot wherever he was, chase the ball again, pause to chat with some friends, take another shot. The second player had another person with him. That person retrieved the ball for the player, but also had a clipboard where she noted each shot the player took, where she took it from, and whether she made or missed the shot. Every so often, the player would stop to check the results from her assistant’s notes.

Both players are practicing, but which player will be making the most progress in their game? The author of the article posits, and I have to agree with him, that while both players are practicing and both are improving their jump shots, the second player will improve her shot faster than the first. This is because her practice was deliberate and scientific. She was keeping track of her attempts, noting where her strengths and weaknesses were, then concentrating on improving her weaknesses. The first athlete was using a scattergun approach, arguably wasting practice time on elements of her game she already performed well and useless time-consumers like retrieving the ball.

The author called it deliberate practice. Focused practice would also work, as would conscious practice. The point is that while we all need to practice, whether we’re writers, musicians, actors, or surgeons. A good first step is setting aside a block of time every day to practice our chosen craft, but to get the most out of that practice time, we need to be focused, deliberate. Thirty minutes of highly focused practice targeting the weaker areas of our skill set could be much better than an hour or two simply flailing away blindly, or repeatedly doing whatever it is we already do well.

So how do we go about a program of deliberate or focused practice?

Well, we’d have to create a system to create that, wouldn’t we? But that (explaining how to create it) would take too much space for this post. So I will reveal my personal plan to create and implement a deliberate practice regime in my next post.

Stay tuned!

Writing advice

5 Tips For Beginning Writers: Tip #2

Last week I examined, in Tip #1 the importance of reading in the process of writing. This week I look at the act of writing itself and the importance of practice.

2. Write—something–every day.

When asked what advice he’d give to someone who wanted to be a writer, Ernest Hemingway famously quipped “Go somewhere and write.”

Listen to Papa.

Like anything, writing is a skill that we develop over time and with practice. The only way to truly practice is to write and the more we write, the better
Malcolm Gladwell, in his examination of excellence Outliers, posited that every person who rises to prominence in their field has put in at least 10,000 hours of practice before their breakthrough. That works out to eight hours a day, five days a week, for five years. More, if you can only do it part-time. The lesson is that it takes time and work to learn the craft, no matter what the craft is.

So we must write. Something. Every day. It does not matter what we write. Some find it easiest to keep a journal. Some a notebook of story ideas and impressions. Some write poetry or try to dramatize scenes or characters from their day. It does not matter as long as we write. The object is to develop a facility with the language and an ease with translating the images and ideas in our heads into words, sentences, and paragraphs on paper. That ease, that facility, only comes with practice.

So go somewhere and write.