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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!

Resolving Freedom vs Constraint

Sometimes, we have no trouble starting a story or project, but we’re unable to stick to one for long enough to actually get it done.

That’s fine if we’re just playing and exploring, but at some point, we need to learn to push for completion in order to grow.

The trouble is that we tend to rebel against any restrictions on our freedoms. We might start out with enthusiasm, but you will hit a point where continuing feels like a chore.

Freedom is important because it’s one of the few (if not the only) values that one can argue as being intrinsically good. Restrictions are important because constraints now can lead to freedom later. When used in this way, it’s called “self-control” or “discipline”.

This tension between Freedom and Constraint is present whenever we have the power to choose. And we always have that power, even if it might not seem like it. So how do we resolve the tension?

Continue reading Resolving Freedom vs Constraint

Exercising the three mental faculties – Part 1: Memory

I’ve found it useful to divide the mental faculties into three categories: memory, awareness, and imagination.

Doing so has helped me clarify what I need to improve, and how to do so. I’ll talk more about each later, but I thought I’d share some exercises you can try for each faculty.

Today, I’ll share three exercises you can use to improve your memory. Most memory techniques are for helping you remember facts, numbers, objects, or abstract entities (semantic memory). I have yet to find a good exercise for improving episodic memory. If you know of any, please share in the comments.

Continue reading Exercising the three mental faculties – Part 1: Memory