You get better at any skill through practice, but how do you practice writing?


Photo by Christian Gonzalez

This was my question as I read Geoffery Colvin’s article about the “secrets of greatness.”

Practice, said Colvin, is a significantly better predictor of success than natural talent. In other words, you can be naturally talented but achieve very little. On the other hand, you can have little natural talent to begin with but achieve huge success through hard practice.

Honestly, this wasn’t surprising to me. I’ve read this before in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

But something struck me about Colvin’s article: there was practice and then there was “deliberate practice.” He says:

Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don’t get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day—that’s deliberate practice.

Colvin talked about an experiment done amongst 20-year-old violinists. “The best group,” he says, “averaged 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over their lives; the next-best averaged 7,500 hours; and the next, 5,000.”

I was stung by it. “How much have I practiced writing in this way?” I thought. “Deliberate, measured practice, getting feedback from others?”

I realized I hadn’t practiced very much. And worse, I didn’t even know how I would go about practicing writing deliberately.

The Write Practice, among other things, is an attempt to deliberately practice writing. And to be honest, even after two and a half years and over 700 articles, we’re still trying to figure it out. We aren’t experts. We aren’t professors of practice. We’re just like you: students trying to learn as much as we can and share what we’ve figured out.

So how about you? Are you willing to put in your 10,000 hours?  Are you willing to practice writing deliberately? If you are, then you’ve come to the write… oops, bad habit… the right place.


Today, we’re going to deliberately practice description. Pick an object in the room. Then write about it for five minutes. Does that seem like a long time? It will surprise you how long it will take just to describe one small detail, but if you still have time left over, try thinking about a memory that involves the object.

After your five minutes are up, start a new paragraph and describe it AGAIN for five minutes.

Once you’re finished with your second description, describe your object one more time, so that you’ve written three descriptions total.

Which one is the best? Which one is the most creative? Which one best captures the object?

Don’t forget to post your practice in the comments and give feedback to other writers.