What’s with this whole deliberate practice mumbo jumbo?

The book that started it all...

Is it just me, or is “deliberate practice” the new catch-phrase? It seems like this theory is popping up everywhere, for all sorts of things; sports, writing, eating competitions…For those of you who haven’t heard of it, it’s the theory that you need to put in at least 10,000 hours of work into something before you’ll reach an expert level.  And not just any 10,000 hours of work, but hard, grueling, detail-oriented repetition for the pure sake of honing your craft/skill/etc.  Or at least, that’s what I understand it to mean.  This post by Sean goes into a little more detail about the specific studies.

I think the main reason this theory is gaining so much popularity is because people really like the idea that anyone can be good at anything, as long as they’re willing to log the time.  It’s no longer about having the talent, but rather the determination to put in the grunt work.  And yeah, I can see how that might be a cheerful, heart-warming thought; it’s the kind of thing parents tells their children, that they can be anything they want to be.  Also I do believe the human mind is an amazing thing when it’s focused on one goal.  It’s also a scary thing.  A person obsessed can accomplish just about anything, really, but you’d better stay out of their way.

Which brings me to my one problem with this theory, and that’s the thought of people molding their children into some sort of super driven little being.  If your three-year-old seems to like the water, and you decide that means they’re going to be the next Michael Phelps, if you really buy into this theory that means you can shape them by getting them to start their deliberate practice early.  You start putting them in the pool all the time, having them work on their technique, making sure they focus all their energies as they get older on honing their swimming abilities, and maybe they will make it to the Olympics.  And true, that’s a great dream, and so maybe this isn’t such a bad thing for a parent to do to their child, but I can’t help but think of kids I knew growing up who hated the sport their parents decided they’d be good at.  Those kids spent most of their time working at their sport, but they were miserable.  But I’m probably just generalizing here, and anyways, what does this have to do with writing?

I know, I’m digressing a little.  I did read a great post by Tribal Writer about deliberate practice in writing (check it out here), which is part depressing and part encouraging for me.  Depressing because I know I’m a long way from my allotted 10,000 hours, but encouraging because I can imagine I’ll be a much better writer once I’ve passed that little check-point.  I’ve been writing since the fourth grade, but I certainly can’t call it all deliberate practice, and even now, I mostly write every day, but there are definitely lapses in that, and days when I just jot down a few lines.  If I want to take my writing seriously, I’m going to have to suck it up and put in a lot more time.  Starting now.

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Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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