| David Gane

Deliberate Practice

Hello again

I haven't put much into this blog for quite a few months. It has gone through some face-lifts but there has been little of substance. A while back, I made the choice to focus the blog less on my personal life, and more on my writing and the process and creation of work. After graduation, I wrote short fiction and I put this blog to the side to have more time. Then teaching intervened in the new year and I put all my writing on hold to focus on lesson planning. Once classes were complete, I had the intention to get back to writing but I became good at making more excuses than work, and I kept myself busy with personal projects around the house.

This week has been an attempt to refocus my energy back into writing, and insuring it with simple and practical actions. The first step was to plan at the start of my day. I would wake and write in my notebook all the little things that I wanted to get done, even if they might not happen for months. This action helped clear my head, worry less, and focus on the day.

The second step was that I bought myself a timer to work in chunks. Following my variation of the Pomodoro technique, I gave myself 45 minutes of work before a 15 minute break. I learned a long time ago that if I did this, I would stay focused. I also have a variation when I have less time or interest, I reduce this to 15 minute chunks, with a 5 minute break. This approach helps me stay on task.

The third action is more complex. Much of my inability to stay focused on writing is that the ideas aren't particularly enthralling and I am not connecting with the work. The other problem is that the ideas I have tried to write haven't been flowing onto the page—a fact I hate acknowledging because I am complaining that I might actually have to do work to get a story done.

The solution to these issues has been to quit writing new stuff altogether and focus on the action of deliberate practice. I found this idea on Shane Parrish's Farnam Street blog, where he discusses Geoffery Colvin's book Talent is Overrated and the chapter on Benjamin Franklin's process to improve his writing.

Franklin would find examples of fine essays and write out the meaning of every sentence. After enough time had passed for him to forget the original writing, he would build his own version of the essay based on his notes. At the end of this exercise, he would then compare his writing with the original, identify his faults, and correct them.

I have followed through on this practice by choosing fiction writing that has recently impressed me and working out the meaning of each sentence. The first passage I chose down was from Norman Maclean's "A River Runs Through It." Those familiar with the story may remember it as the section where Norman daydreams about the river, fishing, and its connections to the patterns of life and death. I also chose a passage from Alice Munro's "Flats Road," found in her short story collection Lives of Girls and Women. It is the moment at the end of the story where Del comes to understand that her family was a different worldview from Uncle Benny and the other people around her.

Since I began the activity only this week, I haven't proceeded into my own drafts of the writing but I will write later on how this exercise turns out.

Tags: Process

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