Tag Archives: practice

Practice, practice, practice: the theory of 10,000 hours

Practice: v. to do or perform often, customarily, or habitually;  to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient; to train by repeated exercises

You know the story:

The tourist in Manhattan asks for directions: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

Helpful local: “Practice, practice, practice.”

I have resisted practicing since I was a kid – starting with violin at age 7,  piano at 10, and as an adult – meditation, yoga, writing, you name it.

Resistance is a child’s tactic against a pushy parent though. How many decades does it take to outgrow this worthless ploy?

By now I know full well that whenever I do something repeatedly my performance soars. But that doesn’t make it any easier to knuckle down.

Stephen King wrote about his own writing habit in his 1999 book On Writing.  He poo-poos writing workshops and says in a nutshell, if you want to become a better writer, write a LOT.  (He also says to read a lot, but that’s another topic).

He writes several hours a day. Every day. Including Christmas and the Fourth of July. And he’s got more than 30 bestsellers to show for it.

Daniel Levitin in This is Your Brain on Music talks about the theory of 10,000 hours:

… ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is the equivalent to roughly three hours per day, or twenty hours per week, of practice over ten years. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people don’t seem to get anywhere when they practice, and why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.

Three hours a day (20 hours a week) for ten years. Or for the crash course, 40 hours a week for five years.

Alrighty then. At least I’ve gotten started.  Thank god there are at least 10,000 p-words. Check back with me in about twenty years.

Progeny Pride: my son the blogging designer

Progeny: n. children, descendants, offspring

Pride:  n. the quality or state of being proud, holding in high esteem.

My son just put up his second essay at Huffington Post (in the Style section) and he’s a damn fine writer, that boy is. Better than I was at his age, thatsa fo’ sure.  So much talent in one package… but then, the other ingredient he has in spades is perseverance (perennial favorite issue for me – just check the tag cloud for samples).

His first post was about how the recession could provide new opportunities for connection. His topic today is slow living… from slow food to slow blogging to slow sex.

As a person without a partner, I can’t speak much about slow sex these days. But I will be looking into slow blogging – one of these days.

Slow blogging theory says that if it’s worth saying, it’s worth taking the time to say it well – to think it through, to explore the nooks and crannies of the question. It says:

Slow Blogging is a willingness to remain silent amid the daily outrages and ecstasies that fill nothing more than single moments in time, switching between banality, crushing heartbreak and end-of-the-world psychotic glee in the mere space between headlines. The thing you wished you said in the moment last week can be said next month, or next year, and you’ll only look all the smarter.

Dang it.  (Conservatively) 75% of my posts would probably have been better left unwritten.

But quality was never my goal. The purpose of this blog was to create a daily writing practice – quantity – to crank out words in the hopes that with practice, quality would be more frequent.

There’s an old Yiddish story about a tailor who was a shoddy workman, but cheap. When customers would complain about a jacket he’d just made, he’d say, “Never mind the quality, feel the width.” (Later it was the title of a 1970s British sitcom.)

This is my 280th post since I started in April.   Feel the width!


Professional or Pretender? writing as a JOB

Professional: n, 1. one who is engaged in a particular occupation for pay;
2. one who has great skill or competence in a particular field

Pretender: n, one who simulates, claims or alleges falsely.

I get paid to write articles on health issues, newsletters, reports and the like. This makes me a professional by the first definition – although as a free-lance gig the work is spotty and the pay paltry.  While I enjoy these assignments when they’re DONE, they don’t engage my heart.

For years I said I would “Write a Book,” because that’s what writers are supposed to do. Unfortunately I have yet to focus on one topic long enough to spin it into a book, and furthermore I habitually hit the wall somewhere around 3000 words for a piece.

When I read Steven Pressfield‘s The War of Art, it became clear that in this area of my life – writing something lengthy about what I wanted to write about – I was a pretender, an amateur. I was not a Professional Writer.

He claims we all know how to be a professional in one area: our jobs – the ones we do successfully in our workaday lives.  He suggests we apply these qualities to our artistic aspirations:

1. We show up every day.

2. We show up every day no matter what, whether or not we feel like it.

3. We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander but our bodies remain at the wheel till the whistle blows.

4. We’re committed over the long haul. We may change jobs, but until we hit the lottery we’ll be working.

5. The stakes are high and real. We’re feeding ourselves and our families.

6. We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re here for the money.

7. We do not over-identify with our jobs.  We may take pride in our work, but we recognize we are not our job descriptions. The amateur takes his work so seriously it can paralyze him.

8. We master the technique of our jobs.

9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs.

10. We receive praise or blame in the real world. If you’re praised for your work by your best friend, that’s not real-world feedback. A friend won’t send you a rejection slip. The real world will.

Pressfield’s a hard-ass.  He wants those of us with creative aspirations to put up or shut up. The War of Art is really about Resistance as the implacable enemy of the artist. I wish Resistance were a P word, because I experience it every day (thanks Mom!) and it deserves a long post of its own. Read the book and you’ll see what I mean.

365 P Words has provided the self-discipline I’ve needed to get my ass into the chair to write every day. Knowing others are out there reading this helps too.  Who knows, my new-found commitment to writing what I want to write might lead to something…

What keeps YOU on the job?

Practice, Persevere, Purge: wisdom from Ira Glass

So you want to be a writer? Storyteller? Screen or radio writer?

Ira Glass of This American Life (a masterful collector of uniquely gripping radio stories -now also on TV) has great advice for you.  Boiled down, it amounts to three of my favorite p-words:

  • Practice (write or record a lot of crap, and maybe occasionally some good stuff).
  • Persevere (do it some more, and then some more and then more after that).
  • Purge (you’ll produce lots of crap and will need to let most of it go).

But he says this with much more pizzazz than I do, so you must watch these four videos on You-Tube.  REALLY. They’re only five minutes each and packed with wisdom.

Start here – #1: Building blocks of the story. The power of the anecdote. Raising questions and then answering them. Reflecting on the point. Every preacher or public speaker should listen to this one.

Then here #2  Finding a decent story – do lots of work then ruthlessly purge the crap.

Then here #3:  How your work almost always, for YEARS, falls short of your taste, your vision.  But do it anyway. A lot. Persevere. 

And finally #4  Two common pitfalls.

Perseverance and public speaking: Arianna Huffington edition

Today is Arianna Huffington‘s 58th birthday – I know this thanks to Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac, which I get in email form every day.

You can read his post here, but I found two parts of her story especially compelling because they were all about having a goal and persevering despite obstacles. Ath this point in time she is an incredibly skillful public speaker – articulate, witty and quick.

Background: she’s Greek, born in Athens.

One day she saw in a magazine a picture of Cambridge University, and she decided that she wanted to go to school there. Many of her friends and family members ridiculed her, but her mother strongly encouraged her daughter, looked for a scholarship that she could apply for, found cheap airline tickets from Athens to London, and took the teenage Arianna for a visit to the campus. It rained the whole time, and they didn’t get to meet with any school officials, but she imagined herself going to school there. A few years later, she applied and was granted a scholarship.

In college she joined the debating team, a rather uncommon extracurricular activity for a young woman at Cambridge at that time. At first, she wasn’t very skilled, and years later said, “Sometimes I was called to speak after midnight because I was so bad.” But she prepared for each debate as if she were the featured speaker and she began to improve—so much so that in her final year at Cambridge, she was voted president of the debating society. She was the first non-British citizen to earn this position and only the third woman in the school’s history.

Purpose – aaaagggghhh!

I started this blog of P-words because so many words beginning with the letter P are Problems for me.

Procrastination, Perfectionism, Productivity, Potential.

Practice – as in establishing a regular writing practice (why I started this blog).

Publish – as in putting it out there (again, why I started this blog).

And the big one: PURPOSE.

What is my purpose? Why am I here? What is my special gift to the Planet this time around?

You’ve probably struggled with this question too – unless you are one of those maddening people who knew from the time you were eight years old that your purpose was to heal sick animals, or rescue people from burning buildings, or be the President that America has been waiting for – and you proceed steadily on that Path.

Many of us have been blessed and cursed with a wide variety of interests and talents, but none great enough to be the One True Thing our lives are all about. We charge down one path for awhile, then something more interesting pops up and we head off in another direction. That’s my life story.

Eckhart Tolle speaks extensively about purpose in his latest book, “A New Earth.” From pg. 258:

Our true and primary purpose cannot be found on the outer level. It does not concern what you do but what you are – that is to say, your state of consciousness… Inner purpose concerns Being and is primary. Outer purpose concerns doing and is secondary….

Your inner purpose is to awaken…. Your outer purpose can change over time. It varies greatly from person to person. Finding and living in alignment with the inner purpose is the foundation for fulfilling your outer purpose.

What he says in a hundred different ways is that our purpose is to become conscious, egoless, present in this moment – and this moment and now this moment – no matter whether you’re washing dishes, paying bills, lying sick in bed, grieving a loss. When you’re present to it, anything is possible. Outer purpose is more easily revealed and moved towards.

OK. At the risk of disappearing up my own asshole, I’m going to stop.

Let me know how you found your purpose – and what it is.