Practice, practice, practice

One of my favorite stories is about a ceramics teacher who ran a little experiment (I wrote about this a few years ago – this quote is from the book Life is a Verb:):

A college ceramics teacher decided to do an experiment with his two fall pottery classes. He told one class they would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced that quarter and their grade depended on the number of pots they threw — so the more the better! The second class was told their grade would be determined by the quality of their work and they only needed to produce one “perfect” pot.

The result? The better quality pieces came from the class that was graded on quantity. As they were making all those pots, they were getting better and better at pot-making.

It’s almost as if our brains can’t help but get better at something, even if we’re not trying hard to improve. The key is doing – it’s more useful to do something than it is to evaluate or analyze (at least for a beginner – things might be different when you’re pushing the limits of your craft).

If you want to get good at photography, take a ton of pictures. If you want to be a decent actor, try out for as many plays as you can. If you want to be a good computer programmer, write a lot of code.

Gus is interested in racing and seems to have a knack for it, so what he needs now is seat time – 10,000 laps will teach him more than Mario Andretti could at this point in his life.

When in doubt – throw more pots, and let your brain work its magic.

That’s why I’ve been writing more lately. On my birthday, I reflected on the rest of my career and what I wanted to do with it. Every option involved writing. I have a great opportunity at Moraware, and almost every way I can help the company involves writing. It’s clear – I need to write more.

So I’m practicing – I’m writing (and publishing) at least 250 words each work day (that’s about one typed page). My goal is to get to the point where I can write 250 words in 15-30 minutes without much effort. This counts.

6 thoughts on “Practice, practice, practice

  1. RichardS

    And I for one am enjoying your blog entries. And some of the recent Startup Success podcasts have been terrific.

    So, downhill from here I’m afraid….

    1. pfoley Post author

      Ha! Thanks 🙂

      … the hardest part about doing the podcast is recognizing all the “warts” … but if we keep doing it, I’ll bet they get better 🙂

      Thanks again!

  2. Steve poling

    Malcolm Forbes says you must invest 10,000 hours in a skill and Ray Bradbury said you must write a million words to not suck. This requires the writer to maintain a sustainable habit of writing every day. I confess that my weight loss exercise regimen has taken away the time I would have otherwise spent writing. You might want to try (I have no idea if this will work) the writing equivalent of HIIT, by upping your word count on some days to 1000 or 2000.

    1. pfoley Post author

      Yeah, it’s really hard to focus on more than one thing at a time.

      I often have to write 1,000-2,000 words in a day for work … my goal for this practice is less about becoming a “good” writer and more about becoming an efficient writer (of about a page). For me specifically, I find that I fear writing that first page – so that’s what I’m practicing over and over. Writing that first page.

      Note that I also have an easier time doing something every single day, because it’s cut and dry (today is day 1,627 of my running streak: Another part of this challenge is that I’m only writing my 250 words on WORK days. It’s a slightly harder habit for me to develop.

      I hope you squeeze in some more writing time soon as well.

  3. Leslie Landsberg

    Hi Patrick –
    So, writing is of great interest to me, as are many things. As I think you know, I want to write a book. I started my process, and then life got in the way…. literally up from dawn to 11, or on same days midnight. Sometimes not even anywhere near a pad and paper, let alone a computer. And even if I wrote on paper, I still need to time to then put it on the computer. I don’t want to accept that I simply can not do it at this time. Thoughts on other ways to write ?
    ~ Leslie

    1. pfoley Post author

      No magic – but maybe think about lowering your goals a bit, as I did – so instead of writing a book (big goal), maybe strive to create a blog with 30 articles (smaller goal) … that’s why I’m trying to write 250 words/day in 15-30 minutes (small goal) vs writing 2,000 words/day as a “real” writer should do. Heck, even better – find an online community you like (maybe some sort of musician’s forum) and strive to reply to one person/day with a thoughtful response. That’s writing – it counts. And you’ll also be building your credibility and reputation in a community you can share your blog or book with in the future.


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