Tag Archives: Writing

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.

A Prompt to Perusers: proffer your comments, please…

Prompt: n. something that reminds or incites to action

Peruse: v. to browse, to look over casually; to read carefully

Proffer: v.t.  to offer up or present for acceptance

Dear Perusers, Passersby, Lurkers and Regular Readers,

WordPress has a clever way of keeping track of how many folks visit a blog, which posts they looked at, which terms they used to find the blog or post, and which links intrigued them enough to link through.

So I know you’re out there. I know you stop by.

Some of you are friends and family, but most of you are total strangers. A couple of those who started as strangers comment often enough that I now think of them as real friends, and that feels really good.

I started “365 Words that Begin with P” to trick myself into a regular writing practice.  (The posts listed here will explain why “P”, etc.) I said that I didn’t care if folks read or commented on what I wrote because that wasn’t the point.

But evidently I lied. I do care.

Since April 6, 2008 I’ve written 292 posts, a number that astounds me (and yet hundreds of great P-words still remain untouched!). I’m having lots of fun.

Now I’d like to hear what’s on YOUR mind. Your favorite P-words and why. Your problems with practice productivity priorities people politics passion perseverence parenting pickles poodles or parsnips.

I have my own favorite posts, but they’re not reflected in in the WordPress stats, which are driven by what people are searching for or being linked to from a popular blog.  Mention a political controversy (all things Palin) or a celebrity (Randy Pausch and Paul Newman – both Unitarians who died recently) and I get LOTS of hits. Mention something of interest to ME (prunes, packrats, plethora) and maybe a hundred take a peek. Though who knew that a hundred people a month would want to read Patron – about the older men in top hats lurking/leering just offstage in the paintings of Degas and Fourain  (students googling “Degas” in preparation for a paper?).

So… in the new year, indulge me by commenting every now and then. I promise I’ll comment back. Let’s have more of a conversation!

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!


Plumber without portfolio: Joe “types without a clue”

Plumber: n. a person who installs and fixes toilets, and should have stuck to his day job

Portfolio: n. a selection of a person’s work (papers, artwork) compiled over a period of time and used for assessing performance or progress

Joe the Plumber (an unattractive adjunct to the McCain campaign second only in repugnancy to Sarah Palin) has written a book. Or typed it. (Or had someone else type it for him…).

Timothy Egan wrote a hilarious and angry commentary on it, “Typing without a Clue,” in yesterday’s NY Times. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here are a couple of tidbits:

The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?

I didn’t think so. And I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate.

Joe, a k a Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was no good as a citizen, having failed to pay his full share of taxes, no good as a plumber, not being fully credentialed, and not even any good as a faux American icon. Who could forget poor John McCain at his most befuddled, calling out for his working-class surrogate on a day when Joe stiffed him.

With a résumé full of failure, he now thinks he can join the profession of Mark Twain, George Orwell and Joan Didion.

Joe is evidently not in line to be the 100th monkey.

Egan goes on to bemoan the hard life of real writers and the sorry state of the publishing industry.

The idea that someone who stumbled into a sound bite can be published, and charge $24.95 for said words, makes so many real writers think the world is unfair.

On the other hand, plumbing is a career path that never goes out of fashion. “After the deluge,” says my ex-, who has plumbing skills, “they’ll still need plumbers.”

Patience and the present moment

Patience: n. the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without gettingangry or upset 

Present: adj. existing or occurring NOW.

When I started 365 P Words back in April, 225 posts ago, it was my intention to focus on words that represented problematic issues for me – like productivity, practice, perfection, procrastination, perseverance, and PATIENCE.  

It quickly became apparent that other P words would intrude on these ruminations – some inconsequential: poodles, post-its and purple poop – and others of consuming passion: politics, prevarication and Palin. 

This week, I’m parent-sitting my 94-year-old Mom at my sister’s home in Nashville while she and her husband take a much-needed vacation, and PATIENCE is the word of the week.

Mom is trying to maintain her grip on reality, but her brain seems only able to grasp what is directly in front of her. This means that when I leave the room she’s in, I disappear, just like an infant thinks the toy you hide under the covers is gone. 

My sister’s house is not big, but it’s laid out in a meandering pattern, so it’s easy for Mom to lose track of her companion.  If I’m in the kitchen and she’s in the living room, she suddenly notices nobody’s there and she starts a quest for the missing person, poking her head in each room, calling, “Hello?? Anybody here??”

This morning while I was dressing in my bedroom, she came in three times, to call, “anybody home?” I tell her I’m dressing and she wanders off, momentarily satisfied, then in a minute she has to check in again. 

I know she doesn’t mean to drive me nuts, so I breathe deeply and try to avoid rolling my eyes. It wouldn’t be so bad to just hang out with her, but she wants to be good company, so she keeps asking me about my life – her attempt to be a good conversationalist.  In the moment, she is a good conversationalist; but my patience is tried when it’s the same conversation we just had.

I’ve been living alone for six years and have come to savor the chatter of my own tiny mind and I don’t like being interrupted. After decades of living with kids and a super-talkative spouse, I need the external silence. I can’t think or write without it. 

My sister and brother-in-law are singer-songwriters (in Nashville, what else?) – how DO they DO it with Mom always nattering away?  I’m in awe of them.

At the rate I’m going I’m not going to be a Buddhist monk any time soon. Patience? What’s that? I can be infinitely patient in traffic or in a slow checkout line, but in the present moment with my own mother? Not now.

Pressure to perform and produce

Pressure: the act of pressing or pushing; urgent claim or demand; a constraining influence upon the mind or will; a burdensome, distressing or weighty condition.

Perform: v. to begin and carry through to completion; to fulfill a promise or obligation; to carry on, function.

Produce: v. to bring forth; to create by mental or physical effort

The weather is lovely today – a clear fall morning, vine maples turning, mists rising from Salmon Creek where I walked with a friend, crystal air.I want to sit in the garden with a good book.

I said I’d write every day in my blog.

I don’t want to write today.
I definitely don’t want to write about politics.
I don’t even want to write about other matters.
I don’t want to do my laundry.
I don’t want to make the phone calls on my list.
I don’t want to clean up the kitchen or go to the grocery store.

My puritan head says MUST. KEEP. COMMITMENTS.
MUST. KEEP. PRODUCING

My pagan heart says not today.

It sure is hard to give myself permission to be a slacker.

Pity the poor political junkie! Play with productivity Legos instead

I am up to HERE with Republican perfidy and pugnacity.  I didn’t start 365 Words Beginning with P to write about POLITICs… though I am a political junkie. Unfortunately Politics and Palin and Putrid and Perfidy and Pugnacious and President all begin with P and when I’ve spent the past ten days watching two conventions (one inspiring, one frightening), I need to vent.

I’m over it…  at least till tomorrow.

Let’s talk instead about productivity, priorities and procrastination!

I stumbled on software developer Michael Hunger’s blog a couple of weeks ago in which he talked about his new method for keeping track of how he spends his time – his creative solution to the Time Log.

Why should we care about time logs?  Because most of us haven’t a clue where the minutes and hours go in the day.  “Where DID the time go????” we ask.  Taking a clue from the diet industry: if you’re trying to lose weight, the first and most crucial step in finding the unconsciously consumed calories is keeping a food diary — writing down every morsel you eat from dawn to dark.  Then it’s much harder to say, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”

It’s even harder to record the hours in the day, because it’s so easy to get side-tracked. Michael Hunger makes time-keeping tactile and truly fun by using colored Legos.  You could think of it as Lego Logs.

Here’s the set he uses (available online for about $25):

And here is what a week of work looks like:

He describes his technique:

I chose a time partitioning of a quarter of an hour (each bump = 15 minutes). So I can use the lengths 1,2,3,4 to build 15,30,45 and 60 minutes worth of time in a row representing an hour .

Stacking these hourly rows on top of each other builds up the whole day. I use the different colors for the projects I’m involved in (8 are just enough), putting them on the stack whenever I want and have time to do so (but mostly quite instantly).

I made up a single width column as ruler for the work hours (from at around 10 am up to 6 pm). So I can easily see whats missing and at what time I did something. For the days of the workweek I chose the rainbow color scheme (red, orange, yellow, green, blue – Monday to Friday) for the longer base row that I stack my hours on. So I can gather a whole week of time tracking until I have to enter them in some time sheet (software). I put the columns of a whole week on top of a green building plate to fix them.

You can easily see how much work you did for any given project as you recognize the colored areas rather than time ranges (8:45-11:15). Having the relative time shares as part of this setup helps as well.

You can even plan your work by pre-building your days on temporary bases with the planned amount of time for each activity (or putting at least the estimated amount of bricks aside).

The benefits are obvious:

  • it works (for about 4 months now)
  • I have something to play with while pondering stuff
  • it looks great
  • it’s incredibly fast with no overhead
  • planning is possible

The single disadvantage:

  • coworkers coming to your place and disassembling your time tracks
  • He figures for an 8 hour day you need  5x8x4 = 160 bumps (1×1) minimum to do all your hours. 70% of Lego pack 6177 are one-rowers, so you get plenty.

    One challenge for me is tracking the roving nature of my work. Some is at my desk, some is in the kitchen, some is in the yard, some is around town. I’d just have to carry Legos in my purse at all times.   What color  for household chores? What color for naval-gazing? What color for getting lost on the world wide web? When is dish-washing, naval-gazing or web-browsing part of writing preparation?  I’d need some in-between colors to record these nebulous states.

    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?

    Purple prose prizewinner: the Bulwer-Lytton contest

    The Bulwer-Lytton bad fiction contest is sponsored by San Jose State University, with the goal of finding someone who can write as bad a first paragraph as Edward George Bulwer-Lytton did in 1830 with the opener to “Paul Clifford.”

    “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

    They get thousands and thousands of entries each year, many of which are positively brilliant pieces of writing, in the over-the-top style demanded by the assignment. I’m serious.

    Take this, the winning paragraph from a couple years back from computer analyst Dan McKay:

    As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in Chapter 7 of the shop manual.

    Take about colorful writing! E.B. White would have applauded the extended metaphor, the specificity of the details, the action verbs, the images that pop off the page.

    The 2008 contest winner will be announced in the next couple of weeks and I’ll keep you posted.

    Profundity in poetry

    Profundity: depth of intellect, feeling or meaning.

    Instead of a sermon this morning, folks were asked to share a short reading that inspired them, if they wished. As Unitarian Universalists we believe wisdom is not confined to a few “sacred scriptures” but can be found in many places.  Our congregation has a decidedly Buddhist leaning, so this poem tickled all of us:

    Bugs in a Bowl by David Budbill, from Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse

    Han Shan, that great and crazy, wonder-filled Chinese poet of a thousand years ago, said:
    We’re just like bugs in a bowl. All day going around never leaving their bowl.

    I say, That’s right! Every day climbing up
    the steep sides, sliding back.

    Over and over again. Around and around.
    Up and back down.

    Sit in the bottom of the bowl, head in your hands,
    cry, moan, feel sorry for yourself.

    Or. Look around. See your fellow bugs.

    Walk around.
    Say, “Hey, how you doin’?”
    Say, “Nice bowl!”

    My offering (even though I do not fish) was a song I love by Nashville songwriter and motivational speaker Tim Bays:

    The Important Part of Fishin’ (follow the link to hear the swing of it!)

    The important part of fishin’ ain’t the fish but the fishin’
    The important part of lovin’ is to love
    The important part of doin’ most anything you’re doin’
    Is doin’ it with all of your heart.

    ‘Cause if the fish don’t bite
    You still got the water and the trees and the sky up above
    And if your lover’s not with you
    Don’t be sad that you miss him
    Be glad your little boat is still afloat.

    The important part of fishin’ ain’t the fish but the fishin’
    The important part of lovin’ is to love
    The important part of doin’ most anything you’re doin’
    Is doin’ it with all of your heart.

    ‘Cause if the fish don’t bite
    You get some time for thinking and your life is what you’re thinking about
    And if your lover’s not with you
    You get more time for fishin’
    It’s amazing how it all works out.

    The important part of fishin’ ain’t the fish but the fishin’
    The important part of lovin’ is to love
    The important part of doin’ most anything you’re doin’
    Is doin’ it with all of your heart.

    Do it now with all of your heart,
    Do it now with all of your heart.