Deliberate Practice

I’ve been listening to Daniel Pink’s book Drive today. I “read” the Audible version of it months ago, but I wanted to read it again. I think the man knows what he’s talking about. I think anyone who is in any position to manage people needs to read it for the words of wisdom on the psychology of human motivation and productivity. That includes teachers and school administrators most certainly.

I’ve blogged about that before. No doubt I’ll blog about that again. Today, though, I want to talk about the idea of “deliberate practice.”

Pink talks about this in his book. The term comes from the psychologist Anders Ericsson, and it basically means that in order to master a skill or talent you need something more than experience. You can be a mediocre golfer, play golf every day for forty years, and end up as a mediocre golfer with lots of experience and no more skill than you ever did have.

To gain in skills as well as experience, you need deliberate practice. This is what musicians do when they play the same little riff over and over and over and over until it is perfected. This is what anyone of so-called talent does in order to acquire that talent.

When I was reminded of the concept of deliberate practice today, I thought, “Oh, I need to practice something like that daily so that I can be a better writer.” I tried to think how I could go about it. Then I remembered I already blog every day and that I had in fact stepped up the game on the blog by proclaiming I would write 750 words a day through the month of September, which is certainly a greater challenge than just committing to post something every day.

I wondered if I could count the blog as deliberate practice. The 750 words is at least a goal of doing some sustained writing every day, but I’ve decided that’s not enough. The blog writing doesn’t take anything out of me. These are just extra words I have lazing about in my head that I can toss out there without really trying. Deliberate practice should wring you ragged. It should make you feel like you have to struggle for every letter. No pain, no gain.

I do believe daily blog writing is valuable to me, but I don’t believe it’s at the level of deliberate practice.

Still it is some manner of practice, and that’s why I do it. It is my attempt to hold onto myself and my identity as a writer in a crazy-busy life.

I was in graduate school already the first time someone gave me any memorable praise for my writing. A professor told me that I was not just a good writer and not just an excellent writer but a writer of rare and natural ability. I don’t believe that is true or ever has been. I don’t believe in natural ability. I believe in work. I believe in feeding the brain the nutrients it needs to thrive. For a writer, those nutrients come in the way of voracious reading and regular writing. Work hard at it. That’s the only mystery there is to talent.

Malcolm Gladwell makes the claim in his book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours of practice at any skill to be a virtuoso of that skill.

I want to be a virtuoso poet, but I know that’s not possible because I don’t put enough time into it. I am spirit-drained when I come home from work at the end of the day. I just can’t seem to manage to write poetry very often in that condition. So even though I identify myself as a poet more so than as a blogger, perhaps I should shift my goals.

I could become a virtuoso blogger instead if I wanted. By my calculations I should only need another 50 years to clock in enough hours of practice to make it happen.

I sure hope I’m not still on the same diet I’m on now when I get to that point.

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