How Deliberate Practice Improves Your Writing

Writing, like any sport or vocation, takes practice. Most writer’s don’t consider the concept of writing practice beyond writing to daily word counts, but it’s necessary to the growth and health of your writing.

The creative mind need to be stretched regularly. It’s called building mental muscle for good reason. We have to train ourselves to write when there is no inspiration. Train ourselves to write when you have little time to write. Train ourselves to sit down and push through a block when it’s absolutely necessary to write. And we have to learn to train ourselves to write better. Do you see the theme here?

In his book Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin talks about the concept of deliberate practice. He explains what that looks like for an athlete, a musician and a businessman. I’m going to tell you what it looks like for a writer.

Creating the Habit and then Expanding

General writing practice is daily writing you perform to maintain the status quo. It does little to improve your writing more that it just builds upon an existing habit. It’s a simple adherence to the advice our mother’s gave us as children, “Baby, if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Deliberate practice is different. It’s hard.The concept of deliberate practice demands that you acquire new writing skills or strengthen weaker ones while building on the existing foundation you’ve already established.

For a writer it could mean many a different things. It depends on what it is you write. Consider the aspects of your writing that are undeveloped or unused and take deliberate practice and brings them up to speed. I like to spend 30 day intervals in focused practice. For example, we understand spelling, sentence structure, syntax, rules of grammar and usage. Now, let’s consider the things we don’t know or where out writing deficiencies lie. Those areas may be in command of AP or Chicago Style, clarity and brevity, building believable dialogue, interview techniques or other areas. Write down your top two or three areas and spend 30 days of focused attention working on making that area stronger. How much time you spend each day is up to you. I never spend less that one hour in practice.

Getting Started with Deliberate Practice

Beginning isn’t difficult.It’s exciting. By human nature, we love to start new things. Our optimism runs high. It’s maintaining the habit that’s the kicker. This is why it’s important to schedule in the time. Once you have put it on your calendar and told someone about it (you didn’t think you’s skate by on zero accountability, did you?), find all of the available resources you’ll need for this leg of the race have them at the ready. Over the course of your month, grow irritated with the repetition, but don’t give up. Nothing of great value is easily attainable.

Let’s imagine that you selected clarity and brevity as your focus.As you write each day, begin checking your stories for excess working, words that can be said with a single word, strengthen verbs and sentences that add no value to the text. You can even edit previously written work and rewrite it or edit your local newspaper and rewrite those stories. The more you practice, the more you strengthen this new skill and when you do, your writing will benefit.Then it’s adding this to your existing foundation and starting a new practice challenge.

“My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.” — Michael Jordan

Question: What is an area that you can strengthen over the next 30 days?

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