Practice, practice, practice

Linda’s Blog

September 7th

I’ve just had a look through my computer *, and I have five unfinished novels, seven unfinished plays, ten article ideas and 20+ short story beginnings! Some of those, I believe, go back maybe twenty years or so! I don’t know whether that’s a lot of incomplete writing or the average, or maybe you have even more?

Never throw anything away – that’s a favourite mantra of professional writers and tutors. You never know when a particular idea may come in useful.

And I believe it is also useful to read back through some of your older work from time to time – just to see how much you’ve improved. Yes, you do improve. I’m a great believer in practice, practice, practice.  Not everything you write is going to be ready for public consumption or publication. It’s just practice.

You may have heard of the 10,000 hour rule. Anders Ericsson, a professor at the University of Colorado, suggested in 1993 that you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert or master performer. It was based on research done with violin students in Berlin, finding that the most accomplished of them had put in 10,000 hours by the time they were 20.Malcolm Gladwell, in his bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success, estimates that the Beatles put in 10,000 hours of practice playing in Hamburg in the early 1960s, and that Bill Gates put in 10,000 hours of programming before founding Microsoft.

So, for we writers, an hour a day will take us about 30 years to become proficient. Three hours a day and it will only take us 10. Where are you on that scale?

But before re-arranging your life, let’s take a closer look at those 10,000 hours of practice.

Imagine you’re a golfer and you start practising your golf swing, day in and day out. If you’re not swinging right, just repeating your old mistakes, then all that practice is completely wasted.

So, the 10,000 hours of practice has to be the RIGHT practice. The Beatles would have been guided by their audience response, Bill Gates as to whether his programming worked or not, the student violinists by their tutors.

A co-author of the 1993 study, Ralf Krampe, said he didn’t believe that practice was everything. He said you had to take into account the QUALITY of the practice, plus support from teachers and family. He said, “But I still consider DELIBERATE practice to be by far the most important factor.”

So, my suggestion this week is to set yourself a DELIBERATE target each time you sit down to write.

  1. Instead of just writing a flash fiction story for your group’s weekly competition, concentrate on finding an unusual setting;
  2. Use a writing prompt to practice dialogue;
  3. Do you tend to use the same forenames all the time? Do some research and change the names in your story;
  4. Does structure let you down? Try using Plotting Points (see blog below from August 24th)

 As for the unfinished masterpieces on my computer! I’ve read a lot of “how-to” articles about getting projects completed. Now I just have to find the time to put all that advice into practice!

( * All my writing projects are saved on an external hard drive that I plug in every day. Just to be on the safe side – wouldn’t want to lose any!)

Have a good week.

Happy Writing.


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