Practice Breaks Plateau

At least I hope it will because I’m currently fighting my way through closing the gap between how I expect my writing to be and how it is in reality. You know how you get this amazing idea for a story and you can see how brilliant it will be written down but then you write it and it’s just crap. I have been for some time (we’re talking many years). Also, I feel like I’m not improving at the moment. I’ve reached this point of not being terrible: I know the basics – avoid adverbs, avoid cliches, show don’t tell, all that stuff – so I can write better than Dan Brown (let’s face it, it isn’t difficult) but I persist in this inability to be good. I’ll get occasional flashes of good – sometimes I’ll even write something really good (and we’re talking words, phrases, maybe sentences on a really good day) although, thinking about it, that hasn’t happened in a long time. Mostly it’s…not terrible. Bordering on OK but not even quite good enough for that.

So as always, when I get stuck, I have turned to google for the magic solution to my problem. And I may have found one. It’s called deliberate practice.

Now this is a new term to me and I’m not sure I’ve fully understood it but my interpretation is that deliberate practice is when you find an area that you need to improve in – something specific so, for example, I’m terrible at narrating events – just getting a character from A to B (I really struggle with this, I tend to over-do it so it gets all clunky) – and deliberately practice that area. I think the actual method is up to you but a suggestion I’ve come across is to read a passage you consider to excel at this area, compare that to what you’ve attempted and pick apart the differences – what makes theirs good and yours bad and how you can make yours better. Repetition is important, too, so keep practicing that particular aspect of writing. And another thing: it’s meant to be hard.

When I first thought about applying deliberate practice to writing I had a strange, dismissive reaction. It was like I almost-consciously thought ‘this doesn’t apply to me’ or maybe ‘this doesn’t apply to writers’. I think I’m embedded with this view that writers are ‘inspired’. They don’t practice – they channel the muse. It’s odd because I don’t really believe in muses and I’m very aware of how much hard work writing is. Yet something about the idea of ‘practicing writing’ rang false to me.

And yet if you think about a different skill – dancing, playing an instrument, sport – you would expect to practice. Why is writing different?

I’m pretty sure this isn’t just me because it’s not the sort of thing I think – this seems very much like a collective subconsciousness thing. A hangover, maybe, from the days when writers were seen as these magical creatures who lolled about waiting for inspiration, scribbled frantically for days on end then collapsed. Myths are hard to shake.

So…is it just me? Or does anyone else find the idea of ‘practicing writing’ a bit…inconsistent without a logical reason.

Also, anyone else having the plateau problem? (That can’t be just me: Ira Glass says everyone goes through it.*)

Well, anyway, I’m gonna give this deliberate practice thing a try. I’ve already identified my strengths and weaknesses and some books to learn from. Just need to get on with it, now.

Wish me luck (and inspiration!)

*I’ve shared this video before but it was hidden away in a ‘click here’ type scenario, and it’s something I keep returning to, so…here’s Ira: