Sunday, July 31, 2016

Grit and the Art of Deliberate Practice

Today I’ve been reading Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. It’s a terrific book, and one I suspect I’ll hark back to because there are a lot of good ideas here. She talks about the sociological and psychological research around overcoming defeat and disappointment, as well as specific real-world examples of people who show grit in their lives. As a writer who regularly gets rejected, developing that resilience is something for which I’m striving.

One aspect to grit that particularly struck me is the idea of deliberate practice. We’re all pretty clear on the way that time spent in an activity leads to better results. Any writer will tell you that it’s common to run into people who would love to be writers but can never manage to make the time to sit down and, you know, write something. But in Grit, Angela Duckworth takes the concept further. She points out that it’s not enough to grind out the hours. Really successful people, the ones who overcome the inevitable plateaus in life, engage in what she calls deliberate practice. They seek to improve their performance by setting goals that will test their limits and stretch their skills, by focusing on specific areas that need improvement, and (yes) putting in the hard work that will make meeting those goals possible.

She points out that, while that hard work may not be fun, those with grit take pleasure in their accomplishments, and find joy in the process as it helps them improve. So tonight, I’m thinking about deliberate practice as it applies to the art and craft of writing, and seeking ways to put those ideas to work in my own stories.

If you’re a writer who’s made a conscious effort to practice deliberately, what techniques did you use? Did you have a mentor, take a class or join a workshop? Has your study been more self-directed? How did you mesh this practice with your writing?

In line with this, I’ve been thinking about one specific thing I’d like to improve in my own stories. (This is not to say that this is the only shortcoming I have; only that this is the one I think is currently holding me back the most.) My writing needs to be more emotional, or rather, there needs to be a stronger emotional thread in the story, and a stronger emotional connection for the reader. So I’m going to read a couple books that address that particular issue, and I’m going to read stories and think about how their authors develop that emotional resonance. Until I can understand what gives me a strong emotional response as a reader, I won’t be able to translate that into my own fiction. I shy away from emotion too much, in life and in art, and that won’t work.

What about you? What’s your deliberate practice? Where are you going next, and how will you make it happen?

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