Deliberate Practice in Creative Pursuits

I’ve started writing fiction again, with the intent to improve.

But I know that simply “writing a lot”, while being a necessary condition to improve, isn’t enough.

For a long time, I used the “project-based” approach to learning instead. This involves picking a project that uses the skills you want to improve, and implementing it. While it’s fun and sounds like you’ll be improving by doing this, the truth is that it’s only effective in the very early stages. There’s simply too much happening at once, and not enough repetitions, to be able to improve.

What I should have been doing is deliberate practice. If you do any reading on self-improvement, it’s likely that you’ve come across the term “deliberate practice” before. If not, here’s a post summarizing it.

How am I applying this to fiction writing?

Simple: I find a short story (1000 words or less, on flashfictiononline.com), and I cut off the bottom 100 words without reading them. Then I copy the story into Gingko, read it, and list out a few ideas for endings, and then write my own version. Then, and this is very important, I read the original ending, and compare the two, writing notes on what I find.

This simple exercise has already revealed my weak areas and where I need to focus. And it’s easy to scale up, to keep increasing the challenge level (write 20%, write 50%). Or to move the part I’m rewriting, to focus on writing beginnings, for instance. More importantly, it removes the major block of focusing on what to write, and allows me to focus on how to write it.

I’m still working on my endings, but I’ll probably be writing about more deliberate practice exercises I come up with as I find more areas I need to focus on.

  • Do you have any practice exercises that allow you to focus on one area of your writing at a time?
  • Can you think of ways of applying this to other creative fields?
  • Let me know in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Deliberate Practice in Creative Pursuits

  1. With composing music, I find that I have improved a lot more since adopting a project-based methodology. There’s a lot to be said about finishing a product.

    Mastery of every step is important, but I find that a deep understanding of how they all fit together is more relevant. It allows me to know better where to put my energy.

    I appreciate the concept of deliberate practice, but I can’t see forcing myself to do it. It is at odds with my creative mind =D

  2. I, like Eric, appreciate the concept of deliberate practice. I’ve also made several attempts to incorporate it in my schedule.

    But I have a hard time sticking to it. Deliberate practice often feels wasteful to me. Sure, I can spend 30 minutes (for example) each day practising some code. But in 3 months I likely have forgotten the solution I arrived at.

    The problem is for people like me seems to be that deliberate practice is learning something you don’t know how to do now (which is good) *and* something that you don’t use in the day-to-day life (otherwise you’d have known it already).

    And since I don’t use the things I’d learn during deliberate practice, my brain also has a hard time remembering them. (If that makes sense.)

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