Practice makes perfect…not really

A tennis court and a tennis ball - practice makes perfect - Peter ReyA new Princetown study seems to have torn down the rule of the 10.000 hours of deliberate practice made famous by Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers.

“Practice makes perfect? Not really”

Even so, there’s no doubt that regular practice, can help us to significantly improve our performance–but only if, as this article points out, we have at least a grain of talent for the skill we want to hone.

Practice does matter also because there’s no doubt that all those people only saying over and over that some day they’re going to write a novel, or that they’re going to learn to play the guitar, or whatever else, aren’t going to achieve anything at all–as it is so often the case for babblers.

A lot of practice, a lot of half finished works

Irrespective of the number of hours you’ve been writing, chances are that if you’ve been serious about your writing, you’ve written a fair amount of works that at some point have died right under your fingertips. Sometimes it’s the story that is simply too thin to stand on its own legs. On other occasions it’s you. For whatever reason, you simply stop caring about the story you’ve been writing. And after a while you come to the conclusion that the only sensible thing you can do is to start a new project. Sure, when you have invested time and efforts in a project it’s never pleasant having to put it aside. However, even the most blotched up projects can have something to offer to us writers.

Unfinished works–a potential treasure trove

When I was younger I simply forgot about the stories I abandoned. I tossed them aside, maybe into a shoe-box and voilà–they were gone. Only occasionally I opened that shoe-box and had a look at all those lost stories stored up inside it.

And, as a rule, that look lead to nothing. In my mind, the old ideas that at the time of writing I had considered so fresh and brilliant remained as lame and cold as they had seemed to me when I had decided to put them aside. Nowadays instead, even if I’ve written thousands and thousands of words I don’t know what to use for, I feel quite differently about my incomplete works.

In first place I remind myself that any work, successful or not, helped me to grow as a writer. In fact in many of my unfinished works I tried out new techniques, engaged in genres I usually don’t write in, or simply strove to get a hang on scenes and situations that were too complex for me at the time.

Secondly, even though a story doesn’t work the way I expected, this doesn’t mean it’s beyond salvage. For example, when I was younger I wrote several short stories. I wrote them over a very short period, in a sort of creative rush, but then I never edited them. Yet, after more than ten years I dusted them off and rewrote them entirely. Not exactly in the the way I had first envisioned them, but in a way that satisfies me even more now.

Thirdly, even if a story is beyond salvage and I have no desire to rewrite it, many of its parts can still be valuable. I’m speaking of scenes here.  After all if I wrote a sparkling scene dialogue in which a man and a woman are flirting while they’re waiting for their clothes to be washed at a laundromat, I could easily change the setting of the scene while keeping the lively dialogue mostly intact.

So, irrespective of any 10,000 hours rule, whenever you add a word to all the words you have already written, you can be sure that, if you’re serious about what you’re doing and have at least a grain of talent, at the very least you’re all the time upping your style.

Last thoughts

If you can win the initial embarrassment, you can also use your scrap of writings as a sort of photographic album. I mean, of the pictures you took with your mind. In this era of selfies and instant gratifications such an album can be a rarity to be shared only with the people you love most.

Besides, the next time someone tells you you should be writing, you can always tell them that the practice makes perfect notion is just a myth, and that you don’t need to practice at all. Anyway remember that words don’t usually magically appear on a page. Someone must put them there. So, at least with some regularity, that someone might as well be you.

Photo by Dietmaha