Thursday, January 30, 2014

The 10,000-Hours Rule: Will Time Alone Improve Your Writing?

eric bananas and papers
Many writers set goals, i.e. 1 hour or 1,000 words daily. How does your time work for you?
We’ve long heard the theory that 10,000 hours of practice is all that’s required to make you an expert in your field, whether it be illustrating, writing, or playing the violin.
But hours of practice alone isn’t enough. “Anders Ericsson, the Florida State University psychologist whose research on expertise spawned the 10,000-hour rule…[said], “You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal.” Focus, The Hidden Driver of Success, David Goleman. [ link to]
If you want to improve rather than simply put in time, says Goleman, your first essential is focused effort. The second essential is receiving feedback from an expert eye.  For writers, that means it’s near impossible to go it alone. Critique groups, classes, writing conferences . . . what feedback has been the most helpful for you?
Originally posted at (Artwork courtesy Eric Birkin.)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Rate Your Skill at Critique

It's interesting how we go to Writing classes and workshops, pay for pitch sessions, all for the opportunity to hear feedback, including criticism, on our work. Talking with someone about critiques, I realize I used to be too nit-picky. (My apologies to you who had to deal with my comma-Nazi former self.) I hope experience has taught me to criticize less and help more.
Here are the questions I posted on the WIFYR blog as ways to evaluate how well we do in the critique setting, both for giving and receiving advice on our writing.
Are you open to advice that can improve your work? As much as we'd all like to hear our work is wonderful, we only improve when we are willing to listen to ideas that make good writing better.
Do you listen rather than argue? When others critique you, stay quiet and give them a full chance to talk. You don't have to agree, but chances are you can still learn from their ideas. In a group critique, pay attention when it's another's turn. You can learn a lot from others' work, too.
When critiquing, are you positive and kind?  Having your writing critiqued has been compared to holding your firstborn child up for scrutiny. The author or illustrator has put weeks, months, or years of effort into his/her work. Start by saying something good, and then tread gently.

Are your comments helpful and selective? Overly harsh critiques are a sure sign of the inexperienced writer. Learn to choose which comments to make, and don't rail on every flaw.
No one enjoys criticism, but these techniques can help turn your critique into a positive experience that can move you one footstep closer to publication.
I had to add that last bit because of the cool photo I got of my daughter's footprints (barefoot was not my idea) after it snowed.

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year, New Writing Goals

It's Jan 6th. Did you make resolutions to improve your craft? Or does the idea make you cringe? I admit to either not setting goals, or failing to keep them. In church last week, I heard a talk by a business manager who'd been successful in helping her employees make and keep specific plans. I've adapted some of her ideas on effective goal-setting for those of us who write.  If you didn't follow through last year, here are some ideas that might explain why, as well as how to do better in 2014.
  1. Your resolutions are too grand. If you plan to win the Newbery this year, great. However, this is a wish. A more reasonable goal would be to plan to submit your manuscript or illustrations on a regular basis, monthly or bi-monthly, for example, or to plan publicity strategies for that already-published book.
  2. You forgot to build in wiggle room. Decide to write from 5-7 am, seven days a week, 365 days, and you'll feel discouraged the first time you slip. A plan to write at 5 am four days a week lets you try again tomorrow.
  3. Your goal is too vague. “I want to publish,” for example, is again more dream than plan. Be specific. As an alternative, “I will attend a writing conference and query 3 agents a month," is a concrete action that can move you toward your wish.
  4. 4. You forgot reminders to keep you accountable. Put a sticky note in your calendar or a monthly alert on your phone. Better yet, ask a friend to check on your progress. Do the same for her.
  5. You set too many. Your to-do list shouldn't exceed your daily word count. Joking aside, too many objectives can overwhelm as easily as goals that are too big or lack a specific plan. If keeping Resolutions is a challenge, this year, try setting just one or two. Plus one more: Use these ideas to help you keep the previous two.meg snowmen(A shorter version of this blog post was previously published at