You’re an introvert, aren’t you?
I am finally reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. I know I’m an introvert – many writers do, I think – but reading this book makes me feel an even deeper respect for my need for solitude. It also justifies my recent splurge: a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
If you're an introvert and you haven't read it yet, give yourself a treat and get the book already. You will feel validated! Yes, you really do need a lot more down time than your family and friends. You do work better when you close the door to your office. And yes, you are more creative when you work alone. Alone, writing at your desk, engaging in Deliberate Practice.
You’ve probably heard the “ten thousand hours” rule by now, a theory by research psychologist Anders Ericsson, made famous in an essay by Malcolm Gladwell: this is the amount of time a person needs to practice a skill deliberately before becoming an expert. In Quiet, Susan Cain writes about the importance of practice too, and why introverts benefit from practicing in solitude. However you find time to do it, you want to practice with focus and concentration.
“When you practice deliberately,” Cain writes, “you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly. Practice sessions that fall short of this standard are not only less useful – they’re counterproductive. They reinforce existing cognitive mechanisms instead of improving them.” **
This is why writing practice is different than journalling. Writing a few pages every morning to dump your thoughts and worries is refreshing, therapeutic, and maybe even necessary for some writers – but it isn’t instructive. It doesn’t change your brain; it doesn’t function as a deliberate creative writing practice.
This is also why it’s important for writers to read. Read brilliant work by writers who are so masterful, their stories give you vertigo! Read stories that make you think, how did she do that? And if you ever read something outstanding and hear your inner creep say, You’ll never write anything that good, take that comment as a personal invitation to practice.
If you want to be a better writer, you must write; but more than that, you must also spend time learning techniques that you haven’t mastered yet – techniques that are continually just out of your reach.
In deliberate practice, you must challenge yourself exactly at the place that you need to be challenged.
What’s just out of your reach? Where is your comfortable writing groove? Where does it feel unknown or mysterious? How do you work your way up and out of your groove, and into uncharted territory?
Yours in deliberate practice,
** This passage is so good, and I wanted to quote the whole chapter! You can find this excerpt on page 81 of Quiet.
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