Have you ever heard of the term ‘deliberate practice’? If you haven’t, don’t worry about it, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know. More importantly, I want to share with you today how this concept absolutely transformed my writing and, as a result, my life.
The concept of deliberate practice might be a little bit confusing at first. After all, how is deliberate practice different from any kind of practice? Isn’t all practice deliberate practice? Yes and no. All practice has elements that are included in deliberate practice, but deliberate practice is a specific term for a kind of practice that has a different goal than most practice.
Most people practicing something because they enjoy doing it. Deliberate practice is practicing specifically for the sake of getting better at something. Let me clarify further. Deliberate practice is practicing for the sake of improvement without needing or expecting and sometimes eschewing enjoyment. That is to say, with deliberate practice, the goal is not to enjoy the thing. It’s to just get better at it, which makes deliberate practice somewhat uncomfortable.
Most people, when they inadvertently fall into deliberate practice, back up. They find that they don’t enjoy the thing that they’re doing quite as much as before because of their practice, and so they stop. I want to talk to you about how, if properly leveraged, deliberate practice can be absolutely transformational.
We typically practice a sport because we like the sport. We practice writing because we like writing. We engage in deliberate practice because we want to get better. It’s a subtle but important nuance. Let’s break down exactly what makes deliberate practice deliberate practice. It has four primary components, the first being a clear goal. The second piece of deliberate practice is absolute focus. The third is immediate feedback. And finally, we need to have desired difficulty.
Instead of just giving you abstract definitions, let me talk you through how deliberate practice was transformational in my own life. When I started writing in 2015, I set a clear goal for myself. I wanted to be able to write 500 words a day. I would get my computer, I would sit down, and I would start writing. Then, inevitably, I would get distracted, and I would go on YouTube for a little while, or I’d listen to some music, and then I wouldn’t like the music I was listening to, and I would switch the music around, and then I would feel like I wasn’t comfortable, so I would go, and I would get a sweater, or I’d take my sweater off. Then sometimes I was hungry, so I’d go and get a snack. Usually I would allot myself an hour to write, but by the end of it, I wouldn’t have 500 words. More often than not, I had less than 200.
This got to be really frustrating for me, because I did want to meet my clear goal of 500 words a day, but I also only had about an hour in which to do it. So I started to get rid of my distractions. I started to eliminate all of the things that were keeping me from focusing, and I started to apply absolute focus to my task. It wasn’t long after that that I started writing 500 words a day.
About that time, someone turned me on to a website called Royal Road. On Royal Road, you can post your content, and other people can read it and comment on it. This sort of inadvertently added in that third piece of deliberate practice. See, I had a clear goal, writing 500 words a day, and I had the absolute focus that I needed in order to achieve that and now I was getting immediate feedback. I would post content to Royal Road, and then people would comment on it, and I would read those comments.
This naturally added the fourth layer of deliberate practice as well, because people would comment, and while that comment may have been meanly worded, because it’s the internet, they were identifying something in my writing that I could definitely improve. After I started to read the comments, I started to practice improving the things that they were talking about. Anytime I saw an issue that appeared in more than one comment, I tried to fix it for the next day. I tried to make sure that I didn’t repeat it again.
I ended up having all four pieces of deliberate practice and as I continued to write in this way, something rather astounding happened. The comments that I would get began to change, because I continued to improve. At the same time, I got faster and faster at writing. Soon in one hour, I wasn’t just writing 500 words, I was writing 1,000 words. And those 1,000 words weren’t riddled with the mistakes that I had made at the beginning.
The more I did this, the more adept I became, the more the comments focused on story issues rather than technical issues which allowed me to turn my hand to understanding how to put good stories together. This brought me to 2018, where in the beginning of the year, I got a comment on a 15-chapter story that I had just written that said, “This isn’t very good, but there’s a story in here that I’d really love to read.” That gave me a new goal. I thought to myself, “You know, I want to find that story too.”
Over the next six months, I did. I took those 15 chapters and I expanded them out to a full book. And then I wrote a second book. Using this process of deliberate practice, I found that I was able to continue improving, even through this process. Because I was so ingrained in this model of creating something, giving it to other people for feedback, and then refining my craft further based on that feedback, it was a natural evolution for me to publish, which I did at the end of 2018. My first book, Nova Terra: Titan, came out in December of 2018.
As of the writing of this blog, I have just finished my 27th book. It’s been five years since I wrote that first book, and I can confidently say that the books that I produce now are way better than the books I produced then. This principle of deliberate practice hasn’t just transformed my writing, it’s transformed my entire life. Because I’ve continued to improve over and over and over again with every single book, my writing now supports me and my family. I was able to transition into writing full-time, which has allowed me to practice all the more.
Now, I can already hear some of you saying, “Seth, it sounds like you’re enjoying yourself. Isn’t deliberate practice supposed to not be enjoyable?” Well, the reality is that day-to-day writing often is not that enjoyable. I don’t mean that I dread it, or that I wish I could do something else. It’s just hard, because I write with the goal of improvement rather than just enjoyment. It’s going to continue to be hard, probably forever, but the result speaks for itself. If you give deliberate practice a try, I think you’ll find that one day you’ll wake up and be absolutely astounded at how far you’ve come.
It’s not an overstatement to say that if there’s any one single thing that has improved my writing, it’s this concept. I hope that you find yourself able to practice it as well.
YouTube Video Link: https://youtu.be/HEr-MBOCSac
Thanks for reading and watching.
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