New writers are challenged from the moment we first pick up a pen, to perfect our craft through practice. The more we write, we’re told, the better we become. Like lifting weights or the dreaded crunches; if we commit to 3 reps of 15 or 100 sit-ups a day, we too can have a six pack.
But what about those writers we all know who’ve spent their whole lives preparing to become national best-selling authors. Your 8th grade English teacher raved about their natural talent daily. They mastered “the rules” of their particular genre, they took every class offered; they are the queens and kings of social media.
And they write every single day.
What is it that separates these writers from the James Patterson’s, the Nora Roberts’, and the Stephen King’s?
Well, yeah . . . at least in part.
Of course, but there’s more.
I ran across an article in the April 2012 issue of The Writer magazine. “The Talent Myth” introduced me to the concept of deliberate practice.
“It is a myth to assume that exceptional mastery in any given field is solely due to talent, that is, a natural ability to do something well; why some people can write and while others can’t,” said Ms. Baig. “It is not the innate natural ability that makes certain people excellent writers. It’s not hard work that predicts success but how one works that distinguishes one from another.”
Psychologist K. Anders Ericcson, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University, a pioneer in the study of maximizing performance, coined the phrase Deliberate Practice. According to Ericcsson, maximum performance occurs as the result of intense practice and as a result of a deliberate effort to improve.
Improvement to mastery involves a deliberate exploration of your strengths and weaknesses. Learn from your weaknesses. Aim your practice at fixing those weak spots and then set small goals based on those weaknesses and practice until you overcome it.
And don’t stop there . . . no resting on your laurels. Move on to your next identified weak spot and keep moving forward.
I took acoustic guitar lessons a few years ago and I was a dedicated student. I attended each lesson and I practiced daily. No one was more proud the day I discovered blisters on the fingerpads of my left hand. I bet I played “Ode to Joy” and “Love Me Tender” so much and so well till I done both Beethoven and Elvis proud.
But I never could get through The Beatle’s “Day Tripper” or any song involving an F chord. It was too hard, my fingers kept getting in the way. I got frustrated because it interfered with my fantasy of becoming the next Indie.Arie (her music includes a LOT of F chords).
But what did I do? I focused on what I was good at, and continued to play scales and my Ludwig and Elvis favs. Somehow I convinced myself that if continued to practice this way, that elusive F chord would just “come” and I’d be on MTV in no time.
As I reflect back, the way in which I practiced made it glaringly obvious that I would fail. Playing the same songs and scales were wasted time and effort once I mastered them because, forgive the pun, I played to my strengths. I’d’ve had a much better chance of mastering the guitar if I’d focused on that danged F-chord until my fingers bled.
Bottom line: we, as new writers, have set a challenging task for ourselves. We should understand from the outset that this road will not be easy, despite what our English teachers told us. We should expect frustration and yes, even discouragement but we can learn from it.
Yes, we should write every day. We should read constantly; study other writers.
We figure out our own strengths and weaknesses and then deliberately, relentlessly write to build upon our weak spots.
Okay, I’ve got work to do.
I need to dust off my guitar.