It’s a new year with new resolutions that hopefully won’t drop off into obscurity come the icy winds of February. One of my goals for the year is to write more and write consistently. I’ve managed to develop my personal writing habits, and I hope it will extend to this blog.
Fear has been my main hinderance for posting. I want to write something good and that desire means I never actually finish anything. My Career Counsellor Friend said that quantity begets quality; I need to just write on a regular basis and not stress about making it perfect. But when she told me this I thought, “Why?” I wondered this not in a childish, foot-stomping petulance, but legitimately. I was genuinely curious about why writing on a regular basis will make me a better writer.
While revision and planning and vocabulary are all important, cultivating a habit of deliberate practice is scientifically proven to improve your skill. I can’t help but envision a brown glass medicine bottle with the label: “Deliberate Practice- scientifically proven to make you better”. Anyway, deliberate practice is characterized by:
1) intentional exertion to improve
2) desire to do the work
3) skill level-appropriate tasks
5) lots of repetition
This last one is important, producing lots of work in one go isn’t going to cut it. If it were, I would sit down one day a month and have a writing binge-fest, snatching words from the air at speed and with abandon. This is called “mass practice”, i.e. a mass of work is produced all at once. But psychologists know that this method is characteristic of novice writers and is not effective. In fact, it’s the perfect formula for hesitation and eventual writer’s block. Although lots of “training performance” can happen during binge-writing, the skills learned with this type of practice do not transfer well to other tasks.
Skilled writers, on the other hand, employ “spaced practice”. The written word is composed at regularly scheduled intervals on a daily basis. This kind of practice is vital to long-term learning. So while the key to becoming a better writer is practice, the key to the key is practicing at regular intervals rather than sudden, frantic bursts like June-bugs in the summer.
The idea of producing a high volume of completed work (repetition) is not new. Well-known authors have been preaching it for years, decades. But my favourite description of this phenomenon comes from Ira Glass who hosts This American Life on NPR. Not only does Mr. Glass explain the idea of deliberate practice, but he gives some encouragement to would-be creatives. Everyone should watch this video. It’s not mine, but I find it so moving I can’t resist sharing.
Ok, so writing on a regular basis is important to becoming a good writer. But how do you get the motivation to write on a regular basis? The answer is not motivation. It is, in fact, discipline. This delightful quote is tacked to the bulletin board beside my desk:
“Forget motivation. It’s fickle and unreliable and it isn’t worth your time. Better to cultivate discipline than to rely on motivation. Force yourself to do things. Force yourself to get up. Force yourself to work. Motivation is easy to rely on because it takes no effort to get. Discipline is reliable, motivation is fleeting. The question isn’t how to keep yourself motivated, it’s how to train yourself to work without it.”
Admittedly this quote was in the context of Mixed Martial Arts training, but it can certainly be applied to any ‘art’ you wish to pursue. If you like you can do some shadow boxing and aggressive posturing before you sit down to your computer/typewriter/parchment scroll. Whatever gets you there. Just practice, practice, practice.
So, there we have it. I have answered my burning curiosity and written a blog post. Good job me! Here’s to the start of my scientifically endorsed writing habit.
Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological review, 100(3), 363.
Kellogg, R. T. (2008). Training writing skills: A cognitive developmental perspective. Journal of writing research, 1(1), 1-26.
Schmidt, R. A., & Bjork, R. A. (1992). New conceptualizations of practice: Common principles in three paradigms suggest new concepts for training.Psychological science, 3(4), 207-217.