June 8, 2011

Shortcuts to Good Writing, Part Two: Be Systematic

Posted in shortcuts tagged , at 2:24 pm by Rebecca Hein

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell notes that 10,000 hours are required to gain proficiency in any endeavor. He’s right.

Yet there’s more to this picture than just the time we put in, as I learned a number of years ago with the cello. I’d been playing and teaching twenty years before I saw the whole fingerboard in my mind’s eye, and this comprehensive map showed me where to place my fingers. For my students, I then telescoped this ability into five years or less through finger patterns, a systematic study of the fingerboard. Traversing the same path again and again, they played three sets of three notes in the most common configuration of fingers, up and down the string.

Writers can do the same by practicing a single skill many times. For example, if “scene” is your weakness, devise a short daily exercise where you describe all six senses your character is experiencing: touch, taste, smell, sight, sound, and instinct. Do this 100 times and see how quickly you progress.

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