Deliberate Practice for Writers

It’s surprisingly easy for writers to put off writing. You would think with today’s technology that life would be easier and faster, and you would be kinda right, however, you would be kinda wrong as well. Technology only complicates things if you aren’t careful with your ability to juggle the pots on the stove, but it is all too easy to become stagnant and before you know it your writing isn’t even on the stove anymore.

With everything pulling at our attention, it is up to you to find the focus and dedication to sit down, write, and do your daily word count. Don’t let your dream of being a bestselling author be just a dream.

What Is Deliberate Practice?

I came across the term deliberate practice from a colleague, but You probably already know about the 10,000-hour rule, a term coined in Malcolm Gladwell‘s book Outliers – The Story of Success. He explains that in order to master something, you need a lot of practice – 10,000 hours to be exact. In one corner It seems daunting considering 5 years of dedication to master something, however, I know many people who have spent at least 5 years in their profession and still haven’t mastered it.

So what does this mean? Surely those people with the experience should be masters in their professions, right? Well, just practicing doesn’t qualify you for the path of success. You have to practice deliberately.

Ben Hogan is considered to be one of the best golfers to have played the game, and for good reason: The man spent hours upon hours deliberately practicing.

“I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it, said Hogan.”

Hogan spent his practice time wisely by separating each element of his golf swing, and then with laser focus began working with intense purpose and intent on the correct hand position to club ratio, and then perfect foot stance, and then upper torso rotation, and then… you get the picture. Hogan obsessed over these breakdowns and repeatedly practiced them perfectly until he mastered them. No wonder he is considered to have one of the best golf swings in the game.

Additionally, a lot of the great sports players and artist and musicians master their craft by simply breaking steps down; learning it perfectly, and then doing that over and over again. That is what makes you perfect.

Now I’m sure you’re not here to master your golf swing, so let’s look at ways writers can use deliberate practice in their everyday writing.

How Will Deliberate Practice Help Writers?

You’re a writer, right, and you write when you’re inspired, right? That’s the artsy hipster fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants stuff. Waiting for your muse might be the Wrong way to go about this if you plan to produce fiction regularly unless you are James Patterson, the collab guy.
It’s like saying you woke up one morning and was on an Olympic team and just realized you forgot to practice your entire life. Do you think you’ll get gold? You have a zero chance. The same applies to your writing. You aren’t born a writer, no one is, so you have to apply yourself and work hard. I’ve never seen a baby turning out chapter after chapter of perfect prose before.

Applying Focus to Your Writing Practice
Quality over quantity. You’ve heard it before, but you shouldn’t take it lightly; you shouldn’t brush it off due to its “clicheness”, Instead, embrace where you are currently at in your writing ability and speed. Slow and steady wins the race. If you are practicing deliberately, you will naturally build quality and speed.

Figure Out What is Wrong With You.
Without being frank, what I meant to say is: figure out where your writing lacks the most, and then focus on that area. Over time you will build your craft. Unfortunately, I can’t give advice as to how long you need to spend strengthening each weak area in your writing, but it should be slow, and as I said before: that is ok for now. If you are going slow and paying attention to development each and every time you practice, then you are doing it right.

Deliberate Practice for Writers?

Here is a list that will help you get started with deliberate practice. I have broken it down into two categories: composition and craft; trying to keep it unique because the sky’s the limit here and before you know it you will be creating your own techniques based on your weaknesses.

Composition

1. Word weeding:

It could be your old writings or anything piece of writing, but take it and practice going through each sentence and weeding out words that aren’t strong enough; words that aren’t contributing towards what you are saying.
Doing this intently is going to help you during the editing stage of your writing and help with those long drawn out confusing prose that goes over reader’s heads. Just keep it simple.

2. Urge Writing

I included urge writing because it has helped me tremendously with procrastination. It is fairly simple: when you feel the urge to do something that isn’t necessary, i.e. youtube, raid the fridge again, you know… those time killer things. Instead, write. You might only have 5 or 10 minutes, but doing this teaches you to write on command, in short burst, and helps fight that big bad word – procrastination.

Craft

3. Chapter, Scene, and Sentence Openers/Closers

In her book, Take Off Your Pants! Outlining Your Books For Faster, Better Writing, Libbie Hawker explains how you should end chapters and scenes on these high crescendos. By doing this, you get this ebb and flow to the structure of your story and give forward moment for readers. I would suggest checking out her book, it is a great read.

4. Read… (yeah you read that right.)

How can you practice reading? The majority of people don’t do this enough. Shoot, writers themselves don’t do this enough, and that is sad. I am naturally a slow reader. I enjoy soaking in every detail of what I read. That’s not to say you can’t read fast and still soak in the details, but still… slow down. Find a happy medium and truly focus. Find a speed that allows you to catch everything that is happening such as sentence structure and prose. You won’t believe how much you can learn by simply slowing down and intensely focusing on EVERY aspect of the page. And bring a highlighter so when something sticks out that is amazing, you won’t forget it.

Other authors, of course, have their own methods of practice, but to be honest with you, I’ve known about deliberate practice for some time, however, intense focus practice for my writing never made sense to me. If there is one thing I want you to take away from this, let it be that if you ever start to feel stuck, just remember that deliberate practice is all about breaking down practice and intensely focusing on the small parts, in the long run, you will build everlasting skill and writing habits due to your hard work and dedicated practice.

So give it a go, think hard, experiment, and discover deliberate practice writing exercises that push you to focus and develop better skills that are going to help you as a writer.

S.M. Morgan
shane@toomuchtowrite.com
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