If you want to play sports on an athletic team, you must attend practice. If you want to perform in a theater production, you must attend rehearsals. If you want to become an artist, you produce many paintings before you hang one in a gallery.
We broadly accept that to do anything at a professional level requires practice, and practice isn’t limited to professional pursuits—many people pour blood, sweat, and tears into mastering their hobbies, from knitting to playing video games.
At the same time, there are people who don’t believe the rules of practice apply to them—people who think they are naturally endowed with the skills or knowledge to write at a professional level without any training, study, or practice, as well as people who feel entitled to success regardless of their effort, merit, or talent.
But even if we are talented at writing, we will need years of practice to reach a professional level of skill.
By now, most of you have heard of the 10,000-hour rule, which was made famous in the book Outliers. The rule states that in order to become an expert at something, you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice.
In other words, a master writer has already spent 10,000 hours writing.
Working at it for 40 hours per week, it would take 250 weeks (or almost five years) to become an expert. If you can only spend half that time, or 20 hours per week, on your craft, it would take ten years to master. For people with busy lives and responsibilities (like full-time jobs and families to care for), it could take a couple of decades to master the craft of writing.
And why shouldn’t it? After all, an expert is someone who has put in the time to become proficient. And while some writers are born with talent, which gives them an advantage (maybe they only need 8,000 hours of practice), even the most talented among us must practice writing in order to become true wizards of word craft.
I tend to view the 10,000-hour rule as a guideline—not meant to be taken literally. It serves to illustrate the need for practice and the value of putting in the time to move yourself from amateur to expert.
And there’s nothing wrong with being an amateur. We all start somewhere. But do you want to remain an amateur? There are readers out there who will buy, read, and even enjoy written works that are unpolished, terribly flawed, and peppered with typos and bad grammar.
But professional writing reaches for higher standards. That’s not to say it has to be fancy or academic or elite. But it should be clear and concise. It should make sense. It should be compelling. It should be the result of adequate amounts of writing practice — the practice you put in to sharpen your skills.
And while perfection is an impossible dream, we can certainly do our best to make our writing as close to perfect as we can, each in our own time and in the way that best suits us.
What Does it Mean to Practice Writing?
We all learn how to read and write at a young age, and then we spend many years practicing writing in school. We also get some practice in our personal lives, especially in this Information Age, which demands that most of us produce a constant stream of emails, text messages, and social media postings.
But many people come out of high school—and even college—unable to write at a business or professional level. That’s fine for folks who don’t want to pursue writing as a trade, but the rest of us need to step up our writing game.
So we must practice our craft.
To practice something is to do it repeatedly in order to maintain or improve one’s abilities. In this context, practice is a verb—something we do, an action we take.
It’s not to be confused with one’s writing practice (noun), which indicates our routine or regimen with regard to writing.
I might practice writing by doing daily writing exercises that are designed to boost my skills and hone my techniques. That’s quite different from a regular writing practice, or regimen, whereupon I spend twenty minutes freewriting to warm up and then work on my manuscript for an hour.
Practice (verb) is essential to a writer’s development. It is the act of creating written material that is neither designed nor fit for public consumption. It is work that we perform in order to eventually become good, perhaps great, and to eventually succeed at writing.
How to Practice Writing
There’s no right or wrong way to practice writing, and every writer will need a different method, depending on their skill level and goals. In fact, the practice you need will change throughout your life. When you start writing, you might need to focus your practice on developing skills in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Then you might need to practice in order to build discipline. Later, you might switch your focus to practicing scenes or dialogue. You might practice for ten or fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, or you might practice only for a few weeks or months each year. You might practice consistently throughout your life, or you might practice sporadically, when you need to develop certain skills.
The important thing is that you practice.
Practice and study go hand in hand, so be sure to pick up books on the craft or take classes and workshops. There are many ways to learn, and practicing without acquiring new knowledge won’t be of much use.
Here are some steps to help you prepare to practice writing:
- Identify your goals. Why do you want to get better at writing? Do you want to be a more effective communicator? Do you want to launch a blog? Write a book? Become a professional author?
- What do you need to learn in order to reach your goals? Which skills do you need to develop? Make a list of things you need to work on. For example, maybe you need to expand your vocabulary, or perhaps you need to study story structure.
- Find lessons and exercises that will help you develop the skills you need. There are countless books, blogs, and websites that are packed with writing lessons and exercises. You can even pick up textbooks if you want a more structured or academic approach. Challenge yourself. Look for lessons and exercises that require real effort.
- Get a notebook or create a folder or document on your computer that is exclusively designated for practice and skill development.
- Add writing practice to your schedule. You might practice every day or a few times a week. You might need to practice indefinitely, or you might be building skills for a specific project and only need to practice for a few weeks or months.
- Prioritize accordingly. We all have various duties and responsibilities. If you’re practicing so you can write a novel someday, in your spare time, it might not be a top priority. If you intend to become a professional writer, you probably want to practice now rather than later.
- Line up some help. Practicing in isolation is better than nothing, and you don’t have to show everything you write to other people. But at various points during your development, it’s crucial to get feedback. You can take classes or workshops (online or off), find a mentor, hire a writing coach, join a writer’s group, or partner with a fellow writer. Make sure you get feedback from people who are qualified — for example, your peers can give you feedback on the content of your writing, but you should also be working with someone who has more experience or knowledge than you.
Some Resources to Help You Practice Writing
Here are some tools and resources to help you practice writing in order to build your writing skills:
- Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
- The Elements of Style
- 10 Core Practices for Better Writing
- Writing Down the Bones
- Stephen King’s On Writing
- The Characteristics of Good Writing
- Talent Isn’t Everything
- Why You Should Study Writing
- Daily Writing Leads to Better Writing
- How to Improve Your Writing
- 100 Common-Sense Ways to Write Better
- Writing Skills You Should Develop
- Whose Writing Advice Should You Follow?
- Critiques Make Your Writing Better
- How to Get the Right Writing Help
Tips for Practicing Writing
As you practice writing, you’ll inevitably encounter various hurdles and questions. Here are some tips to make the process smoother:
- Prepare to be challenged, because it won’t be easy. Writing can be fun, exciting, and rewarding, but it’s also hard work, and learning can be frustrating, especially when you want to be on the field, producing publishable works. Keep your goals in mind so you don’t forget what you’re working toward and why you’re working toward it.
- Acknowledge your current skill level. Whether you’re a beginner or intermediate writer, it helps to understand and accept your abilities and how much practice lies ahead for you. It’s okay to be a beginner. It’s okay to be learning and growing. We all start somewhere.
- Be willing to practice for the sake of practice. Practice with intent and acceptance. For example, when you write your first book, do so with the understanding that it might not be suitable for publication. In fact, it’s not likely to be suitable for publication.
- Maintain your strengths while strengthening your weaknesses. More importantly, acknowledge and celebrate your strengths. Over time, you’ll expand your strengths and you’ll have more to celebrate.
- Read books on the craft, and then put the knowledge you’ve gained into action by doing the work—in other words, do the writing. Practice it.
- Take your time; don’t rush. When you’re writing strictly for practice, it’s tempting to hurry because it feels like work and you want to be done with it. But you will get more out of your writing practice if you slow down and focus on what you’re doing.
- Always polish your work! It’s easy to finish a writing exercise and be done with it after the first draft. After all, it’s just an exercise, right? Wrong! Revision is an important step in your practice. Don’t skip it. Pay attention to the details, refine your work, and give your writing the attention it deserves.
- Try new things. I can’t recommend this strongly enough. Most of us have a favorite form or genre — we want to write poetry or science fiction. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when you never step outside your comfort zone. But doing so will broaden your skills and result in fresh writing that isn’t weighed down with tropes, formulas, and stereotypes.
Even people who are laden with talent or born prodigies must practice in order to become truly proficient at the craft of writing. Practicing doesn’t mean you’re trying to become an elitist or a snob. It simply means you want to reach a point where you can produce quality work, writing that is worth reading. If you put in the hours and the effort, you’ll feel good about sharing and publishing your writing.
Well, you know the saying: practice makes perfect. So what are you waiting for? Go practice writing!
How often do you practice writing? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share with other writers who need to practice writing? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
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