Practice, Practice, Practice

It’s often said 10,000 repetitions leads to mastery. Practice something enough, you become good at it.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Every time I get the motorcycle out of the garage for the season, I feel better about my riding skill than at the same time the year before. Turns feel more graceful, shifting feels smoother, and I feel more relaxed in the saddle.

PicPlz Lenore

Lenore likes the way I handle her

Every ride is practice. I may take the long way home from time to time for fun, but it’s also an opportunity to put more miles under the tires and more time in at the controls. If miles are reps, then I’ve got some time before I hit 10,000, but I’m plugging away.

It applies to karate for sure, whether we’re talking about kata or specific techniques. My dojo stresses hard the importance of practicing at home, and when review rolls around, it’s easy to pick out the students who have been practicing and those who haven’t been. Some say those of us progressing through the ranks make it look easy, but they’re only seeing our class time, not the many hours we’re putting in at home on our own.

Shihan and I

Shihan Joseph Walker and I when I received my 1st degree brown belt

I’ve been spending more time on the weights and on the track than doing karate at home of late, but I still get my ass to class and get my practice in. Over the next two days, I plan to put in at least an hour each day as last-minute prep for a karate seminar this weekend. I don’t want to be a guy they pick out as not practicing my art enough.

It’s all about practice, practice, practice, and it applies to everything, even writing.

Yes, that’s right, you should be practicing writing. Though instead of 10,000 repetitions, you’re looking at a million words or so. The saying goes something like this:

Every writer has a million words of bullshit stuck in their head. Once he gets these million words out of the way, the real writing starts to appear.

I first heard this from Mike Baron at a comic convention, and it’s been attributed to Ray Bradbury and several other greats. Get your butt in the chair and get writing if you want to get better. Writing is a craft that can be learned, practiced, and improved, just like any other skill.

The Only Way to Write

It's cigar season again!

It pains me to look at my older work. Everything from my word choices to my sentence structure to my dialog just seems… raw. I have no doubt I’ve become a better writer over the years, and I think many of my colleagues and readers agree.

Every writer will tell a similar story. Ask Tom Piccirilli what he thinks of Dark Father sometime.  Most of us have trunk novels that we later came to realize are part of the million words we needed to get out of  our brains (I have two). Many writers who appear to have just arrived on the scene have a stash of cringe-worthy sales to now-defunct small press rags they hope will never see the light of day again.

Now, are these works really that bad? Not necessarily, but you get the idea. A writer’s craft changes and evolves. Some may contribute it to age, or maturity, or studying others’ works or taking classes, but it all amounts to practice. Keep hammering the keys until the words start to play nice. Write, rewrite, and repeat.

Which brings us to the only bit of writing advice that counts:

Put ass in chair.

I first heard it from Norm Partridge who said he heard it from Joe Lansdale. Whatever the source, you have to love its simplicity. Sit down and write. Practice your craft.

You can get better.

You will get better.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

6 comments

  1. Lee Thompson says:

    Great post, Mike. But I think focused practice is the key. Too many people may think they’re practicing when all they’re doing is going through the motions without any effort toward efficiency and precision.

  2. Another excellent post Mike. How old were you when you started writing regularly?

    I know that writing a blog has fallen under the 10,000 rule for sure. Just looking at your post I can see things like using block quote images and linking to people – things that I didn’t know to do when I started, didn’t notice for a long time, and seeing you do it realize I should do it more often.

    How long did it take you to feel comfortable writing on here? Thanks again for the great advice…put ass in chair…

  3. Mike says:

    Lee: Shh, you’re giving away my next blog post. ;)

    Ted: I always wrote stories, usually just for my own entertainment or for my friends. During my senior year in high school, my creative writing teacher told me try to get published. I dabbled with short stories without success, then lost a few years working retail management. When that gig ended in 1998, I buckled down and finished my first novel and have been at it ever since.

    I started blogging around ’99 or 2000. I was posting news updates to my page manually, and then I saw an interview with Neil Gaiman on TechTV where he mentioned Blogger. I jumped on it, and a few years later I switched to WordPress.

  4. The fuck are you talking about? I love Dark Father.

    • Mike says:

      Really? Then I think some stories got blown out of proportion back in the day and these three copies can go on eBay.

  5. […] Practice is important, but just going through the motions is a waste of time. […]