Deliberate Practice and the Writer

woodleywonderworks / Foter / CC BY
If you want to be the very best writer you can be, if you want to master your writing craft,  it is going to take practice and you will have to do it deliberately. 

If you have not heard of deliberate practice, it's a thing! 

John Hayes, a cognitive psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, spent many years researching talented individuals like Mozart and Picasso to understand how they became masters of their craft. He discovered a common thread - it took them 10 years! Further research found this was true of other notable people, as well.

Time was not the only key, but "deliberate practice" - a theory identified through the research of Swedish psychologist, Dr. K. Anders Ericsson - involving
consistent and deliberate work to improve performance.  This concept believes innate talent isn't the indicator of success, but practicing methods for improved performance.

Some do not agree with this theory in its entirety, believing that talent does play a part, but I think we can glean some solid information.

Deliberate practice may be common with musicians, athletes, and painters. But how can it apply to writing?  Writer/Editor Chris Jones says this: 
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.
It is making time to consistently and deliberately practice, resulting in improvement and mastery.  Jones suggests identifying your top 2 or 3 areas of weakness  and setting aside 30 minutes a day on focusing to make those areas stronger.

Author and writing teacher Barbara Braig suggests writing down the skills you are good at. Next, list the areas which you know need improvement. If you need to write more complex sentences, learn about sentence structure and practice writing sentences with more than one clause. If your characters are not believable, read excerpts from your favorite author. List those things the author does to make the story good. Ask yourself how many of those things you can do and how many you need to learn.

My first published article had to be written in Chicago style. Do you know the difference between Chicago and AP? I didn't. If I'm going to continue to write articles, I need to practice writing in both of those styles until it becomes second nature. 

The key is to schedule time regularly for practice. It will be work. You will be stretched. You might even get bored. Yet, the results are in and it is enough to motivate and inspire - whether you are just starting out or you are a seasoned writer. 

After raising and homeschooling her 8 children and teaching art classes for 10 years, Kathy has found time to pursue freelance writing. She enjoys writing magazine articles and more recently had her story, "One of a Kind", published in The Kids' ArkYou can find her passion to bring encouragement and hope to people of all ages at 
When It Hurts


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

As a writer,editor, author of books that will help other writers do exactly this! ...well, Kathleen, I applaud you. This is an excellent article wrapped around a different slant on an old concept....learn, learn, learn.(-:

Crystal Collier said...

Yup. When I'm on a routine, I spend 20 minutes a day studying the craft, then apply what I'm learning during my writing hours. If authors aren't actively seeking to grow, they don't belong in this business.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Interesting thought. I do think some writers are more talented than others but perhaps that's because of early education, love of reading and practicing writing before they even consider it practice. Interested in your Chicago style/AP style comments. AP is usually the news norm while we use Chicago style for editing fiction.
A great article, Kathy.

Kathleen Moulton said...

Thank-you, Carolyn. I thought the same thing.. a different slant on an old concept.. "practice makes perfect"!

Kathleen Moulton said...

Thank-you, Annie :)

Kathleen Moulton said...

Great points, Crystal. Thank-you!

Shirley Corder said...

Thank you for this Kathleen. I like the Idea of selecting a weak area and working on it.

Karen Cioffi said...

Kathleen, great article. It's so true, we writers always need to keep moving forward with our writing. I once edited an academic paper for a doctor in the UK. I had to use the Qualitative Health Research guidelines, so had to review them carefully. It was an interesting project. Always learning. :)

Unknown said...

Wow, great post.

Don’t Depend 100% on Your Publisher

By Terry Whalin (@terrywhalin) In 2007, America’s Publicist Rick Frishman invited me to participate on the faculty of MegaBook Marketing Uni...