Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Deliberate Practice

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Feb• 10•22

I’ve been watching the Olympics this week and last night was thrilled when 22 year-old Nathan Chen won the gold medal in men’s figure skating. Mixed in with the events were various interviews and backstories on the athletes, including  their previous wins and losses, personal tragedies, and injuries.

Before Malcom Gladwell wrote in Outliers: The Story of Success that mastery requires 10,000 hours or ten years of deliberate practice I’ve recognized this truth because I know successful authors who put in thousands of hours at their craft. Noticed how performers, musicians, writers, and athletes have perfected their expertise by years of unstinting, deliberate practice. The playground kids hitting hundreds of free throws a day. The athletes getting up a dawn for early practice before school. The chess masters hunched over the board and studying long-dead grandmasters and their wins.  Chen spending so many hours of his childhood on the ice since he was three.

There are debunkers who claim Gladwell’s assertion isn’t true. Claims are that it’s an overgeneralization and misinterpretation of the research. That it’s not the quantity of the practice, but rather the quality of the practice because not all practices are equally helpful. Here’s what I think: the exact number of hours needed to write a quality novel or memoir or screenplay can never be adequately measured. But it requires an immersion, obsession, and undaunted practice. It requires carving out time,  getting up early and staying up late and missing out on ‘normal’ life at times. It requires lifelong learning and commitment to getting better. I’ve met writers who write a lot but their commitment to the craft isn’t strong. As in their writing stays at the same level, the vocabularies similar in whatever they write, similar plots and ploys repeated.

Writers need their own version of the ‘quads’. As in the quadruple axels on the ice that require precision and becoming stronger and smarter day after day.

Precision in writing can apply from the word level to themes to storyline. Putting down the perfect word in the precise place its needed. Learning to use figurative language. Plotting a series of twists in your storyline.

After Chen won gold NBC featured film clips of him as boy, including him on the ice as a toddler. Then there was an interview when a reporter asked the eleven-year-old about his skating goals and he said he planned on being in the 2018 Olympics. The reporter’s voice was syrupy and almost condescending as in “isn’t it adorable when kids dream.”

But dream he did. And then hit the ice. And placed a disappointing fifth place in the 2018 Olympics and kept going, including attending Yale and finding a balance between skating and real life. This week he had disappointing performances in the team event and short program. Then yesterday in men’s figure skating finals Chen competed against the best skaters in the world and landed six quads, a history-making achievement. He envisioned success and you can too.

What’s your dream and are you putting in the hours? Are you growing? Do you believe in yourself?

Keep writing, keep dreaming, put in deliberate practice

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.