Writing Practice Makes Perfect! or Better, Anyway (for 10 pts extra credit)

Practice vs. Deliberate Practice

 Golfing with the Kids. Photo by Dereck Bradley.You get bet­ter at any skill through prac­tice, but how do you prac­tice writing?

This was my ques­tion as I read Geoffery Colvin’s arti­cle about the “secrets of greatness.”

Practice, said Colvin, was sig­nif­i­cantly more impor­tant than nat­ural tal­ent. I wasn’t sur­prised. I’ve read this before in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

But some­thing struck me: there was prac­tice and then there was “delib­er­ate prac­tice.” Colvin says:

Simply hit­ting a bucket of balls is not delib­er­ate prac­tice, which is why most golfers don’t get bet­ter. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leav­ing the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 per­cent of the time, con­tin­u­ally observ­ing results and mak­ing appro­pri­ate adjust­ments, and doing that for hours every day—that’s delib­er­ate practice.

Colvin talked about an exper­i­ment done amongst 20-year-old vio­lin­ists. “The best group,” he says, “aver­aged 10,000 hours of delib­er­ate prac­tice over their lives; the next-best aver­aged 7,500 hours; and the next, 5,000.”

I was stung by it. “How much have I prac­ticed writ­ing in this way?” I thought. “Deliberate, mea­sured prac­tice, get­ting feed­back from others?”

I real­ized I hadn’t prac­ticed very much. And worse, I didn’t even know how I would go about prac­tic­ing this way.

The Write Practice, among other things, is an attempt to prac­tice writ­ing delib­er­ately. And to be hon­est, we are still dis­cov­er­ing how to delib­er­ately prac­tice writ­ing. We aren’t experts. We aren’t pro­fes­sors of prac­tice. We’re just like you: stu­dents try­ing to learn as much as we can and share whatwe’ve fig­ured out.


Today, we’re going to delib­er­ately prac­tice descrip­tion. Pick an object in the room. Then write about it for five min­utes. Does that seem like a long time? It will sur­prise you how long it will take just to describe it, but if you still have time left over, try think­ing about a mem­ory that involves the object.

After the five min­utes are up, start a new para­graph and describe it AGAIN for five miutes. Then do it one more time, so that you’ve described it three times total.

Which one is the best? Which one is the most cre­ative? Which one best cap­tures the object?

[Turn all three descriptions in to Ms. Thomas’s TURN IN ALL basket for 10 points extra credit.]