For the last two weeks, I have been talking your ear off about deliberate practice. That’s how important it is. Today, I wanted to do something a little bit different. I wanted to take all of these concepts that we have been talking about, and I wanted to give them to you in a concise and practical way. So hopefully, you can apply deliberate practice to your writing as well.
Deliberate practice is defined as practicing for the sake of improvement instead of enjoyment. And by applying the four principles of deliberate practice in my writing, I have been able to get fifteen years of effective practice out of five years of writing.
So what constitutes deliberate practice? Well, it’s any practice that has the following four elements. A clearly defined goal, absolute focus, immediate feedback, and desired difficulty. So I’m going to go through each of these one by one, and I’m going to talk to you about how I use them in my life and what shape that each of them takes.
I’ve talked a lot about how I have word count goals. And when I started, those word count goals were pretty low, 500 words a day. 500 words isn’t a microscopic amount, but it’s enough that I could do it in about an hour. Now, however, my goal has grown. Instead, I count by chapters. I’m aiming for four chapters a day, which is 10,000 words. And so my goal has simply increased. But most importantly, it is incredibly clear. It’s very well defined as a binary success or failure because I either write that amount or I don’t write that amount. And finally, it’s also very measurable because I can tell how far off I am or how much I’ve exceeded it.
Not everybody uses word count goals, but I do really like them. The clarity that it gives me also tells me how long it’s going to take me to write a book. And then I can make my adjustments based on my schedule and all of that kind of stuff to just give me a really good sense of the pacing I’m on with a book. And all of that comes from having a very clear goal.
The second thing is absolute focus. Absolute focus is something that magnifies your efforts. And so I have been doing writing sprints, which you could actually join because I’ve been streaming them. A writing sprint is a dedicated period of time where you tune out every other distraction and you just write. And I’ve been doing that. If I do six writing sprints in a day and I’m absolutely focused during them, then I can typically get about 10,000 words. Some days I do it, some days I don’t. In fact, today I did my six sprints and I didn’t quite get 10,000 words, but I’m only about 1,000 words off. And so I know that if I just do a couple of more sprints, I’ll be fine.
But like I said, I have been streaming these writing sprints. You can join me most weekdays at 8.30 Eastern Standard Time. We chat for about half an hour as people are getting on. And then starting at nine, I run the writing sprints and you can join in. They’re a fantastic way to train yourself into absolute focus.
The third thing necessary for deliberate practice is immediate feedback. And I get immediate feedback through a community that I’ve created with readers who are kind enough to be part of my beta team and read along with me as I write. As I post chapters and I get feedback on them, it helps me course correct for what I need to do going forward. But because I’m putting out so much content, I’m constantly getting comments. I’m constantly getting people sending me messages. And as I listen to those messages and as I read those comments, I can start to identify areas where I’m weak. And so that community does more than just consume my content. In a sense, they also help me refine it.
That immediate feedback really informs what sorts of things I work on in the next step, which is desired difficulty. With desired difficulty, we need to make sure that we are not working on something that’s too hard or too easy. It needs to be stretching, but it needs to be achievable. And we need to be able to repeat it over and over and over again.
And so when I’ve identified some of the weaknesses that I have, I pick one that is adjacent to something I’m good at. And I practice just that thing. It’s like I’m slowly building a pyramid of skills with the hardest skills up at the very top and the easier skills piling up around the bottom to support them. So instead of trying to tackle the hardest thing first, I tackle easier problems because I know that as I improve on them, they will in turn make it easier for me to do the hard things.
Now, some people I know who are into deliberate practice like to write down what it is they’re working on. I find I don’t have to do that. I can just sort of keep it in my mind. But if you’re having trouble keeping the weakness that you’re trying to work on in the forefront of your mind, then I would definitely recommend writing it down on a post-it note and sticking it on your monitor or your desk, wherever you’re writing.
That’s a snapshot of how my deliberate practice works. Yours is going to be a little bit different because you’re different. You have your own life. You have your own experiences. You have your own weaknesses and strengths and your own communities. And so you have to tune your deliberate practice to be good for you.
I hope that this gives you a sense of how deliberate practice can be used in a really practical way in order to supercharge your writing. It’s no joke to say that deliberate practice has transformed my life. I don’t just do it in my writing. I try to do it in everything. I try to do it in my relationships. I try to do it in my hobbies. I try to do it just wherever I am.
There’s a secret about deliberate practice that is not often talked about. While we don’t exercise deliberate practice for enjoyment, but for the sake of improvement, it is in and of itself enjoyable. It takes some time to get into it, and at first, I have to admit, deliberate practice was a little bit rough for me. But the more habitual it became to deliberately practice whatever it was that I was doing, the more satisfying it became to see my progress.
A lot of the things that once distracted me from writing just sort of fell by the wayside. And now when they come up, it’s like, oh, I could do that, but I don’t think I’m going to. I think I’m going to keep going. I think I’m going to keep improving.
As you begin to put deliberate practice into your writing, you’re going to find the same happens. One day you’re going to wake up and you’re going to realize that you are really, really good at it.
YouTube Video Link: https://youtu.be/5c1pM-qwn7o
Thanks for reading and watching.
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