Fiction Writing Practice – Quality vs. Quantity

Those of you who have been following the blog for a while will know by now that I’m putting a lot of effort into utilizing deliberate practice to improve my fiction writing skills.

For the last couple of month I’ve been focusing on getting my practice time up, going from practicing on average 1.5 hours a day in September last year to averaging 3 hours a day over the last four months.

I know, I know. Deliberate practice is all about the quality of the practice not the amount of time spent, but I figured I needed to up myself in both areas if I want to become a professional writer before I hit the grave. And keeping with the dogmas of deliberate practice I focused on one area (quantity) at a time.

Now, however, I’m putting in the hours I want consistently, so it’s time to think about the quality of my practice.

As it is now, there’s definitely some of my training sessions where it’s very dubious whether all of the training should really count as deliberate practice, but I’m working on changing that. One thing I’ve done is to make sure I don’t just read for fun but also read to learn.

Another thing I’ve done is to categorize my training to help me keep focus on what I should be learning in each training session. I began by splitting it up into Writing Exercises, Story Writing, and Reading because that seemed intuitively like the different techniques I used to become a better writer. Later, having read about visualization and how it can actually help you practice a desired skill, I added that as a category.

Now, looking back, I’ve come to realize that this isn’t really the way my practice is scheduled at all. The Writing Exercises and Story Writing categories are spot on, sure, but Reading isn’t really one category and Visualization doesn’t really cover all the aspects of the practice I do when I don’t have a book, computer, or notebook at hand.

So I’ve split Reading into two categories: Story Analyzing and Craft. Story Analyzing covers most of the reading I do, the short stories and novels, but it also covers audiobooks and movies and plays.

“Movies and plays!” you say. “Now you’re just cheating to find some way of reaching your goal for practice hours”.

Well, not really. See, the important part isn’t the format of the story I observe but that I analyze it to see what does and doesn’t work. Sure, reading should constitute the majority of the time spent on story analysis if I want to write novels and short stories (because I also need to learn what works specifically for those formats), and a three hour movie doesn’t correspond to three hours of deliberate practice. Most likely, watching a movie, especially one I enjoy, won’t result in ne analyzing the story for more than 20 or 30 minutes. And though I won’t catch as much information as when I’m reading, movies does allow for easier analysis of an entire story arc since it can be devoured in just a few hours.

Craft covers the books and podcasts on writing I devour. To those of you who know a little about deliberate practice this might not seem to fit in the formula. But actually, books on craft has proven a good place to find areas I need to improve and ways to improve them, so it plays into the feedback part of deliberate practice. It isn’t a substitute for real feedback on my writing, and it shouldn’t constitute the majority of my practice time, but it is very useful.

Finally, I’ve changed visualization into Mental Training, because visualizing scenes turned out to be a very small part of the practice I do. Most of the mental training consists of coming up with ideas for new stories (before I get to writing them down), thinking over ways to fix issues with my current stories, and observing and thinking about how people behave and how I can use it in my stories.

This Mental Training might seem a bit wishy-washy and far removed from the ideas of deliberate practice, and I used to think so too. But I’ve gradually learned that it’s actually a very important part of writing stories, at least for me, and actually the part where I probably need the most work. Again, it shouldn’t constitute the majority of my practice time, and it certainly isn’t enough on its own, but none of the areas of practice are; I need them all.

Hopefully, this new categorization of my practice time will help me improve the quality of my training in the future. If you have any inputs to this strategy, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

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