Saturday, March 13, 2010

Random Blatherings

I've had some hard slogging in the last couple weeks, not performing--in most respects--the way I've been hoping too.

I'm working 'diligently' to edit what amounts to a little more than the central third of the book in order to get it into the hands of my group of readers. I'm finding a handful of sections that need a loving hand and repeatedly struggling to lean into the fixes the way I need to.

In the rewriting phase, goal-setting is a little bit more difficult than when I can simply say, "Today, I must produce a thousand words." Many days during this stretch, my novel has shrunk. Other days, I've simply made subtle changes that, I hope, improve small stretches of scenes.

Why some scenes prove more resistant to improvement than others, I'm not always sure. Often when I force work that doesn't feel like coming, even difficult fixes sorta melt away with just a handful of keystrokes. But for whatever reason, some fixes look daunting. And sometimes their resistance is enough to drive me away from those pages for good stretches of time.

I'd like to understand this problem and to be able to blast away at it with more gutty consistency, but I'm a work in progress this way (of course I'm a work in progress in every way, but you get the point).

Speaking of works in progress, I'm reading a book called Talent is Overrated.

The basic premise is that the idea of prodigy, of God-given-genius, is a fallacy. Instead, the author contends that there are essentially no shortcuts to brilliance in any given field. He traces the history of people like Mozart, Tiger Woods, Jerry Rice and others to build up a proof that a long history of what he calls deliberate practice is required to create a prodigy.

The definition of deliberate practice is vitally important:

Deliberate practice . . .
  • is designed specifically to improve performance
  • can be repeated a lot
  • allows for continual feedback on results
  • is highly demanding mentally
  • isn't much fun

The last will probably send a lot of people heading for the aisles, but this is an important point because, naturally, if it were fun everyone would do it.

The good thing about this line of thinking is that real achievement is possible to more people than might be imagined.

'So,' you might ask, 'Why should I give a rat's behind?'

Well, I'm not sure why you should care, but I care because I'm always hoping to figure out how to improve my chances of building the life I really want to live (and I always feel like there's vast room for improvement on that count).

This idea of deliberate practice erases a great deal of magical thinking that so often circles around great achievement. Since I'm not magic, I prefer workaday answers to the questions I have about how to get where I want to go.

Of course deliberate practice is easier to define and grade in an area like sports, so full of built-in measurements for success. For writers, it's not so cut and dried. But I really hope to figure out how to lay out a long-time stream of work that will qualify as deliberate practice. And I hope along the way to improve radically my ability to deliver the way I want to as a writer.

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