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Discuss: The difference between top performers & mediocre ones

“In The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (Random House, 2011), David Brooks makes a… point. In a section about what separates virtuosos from amateurs, he writes, ‘Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously honing their craft…. [But] it’s not just the hours, it’s the kind of work done…. Mediocre performers practice in the most pleasant way possible. Great achievers practice in the most deliberate and self-critical way. Often they break their craft down to its smallest constituent parts, and then they work on one tiny piece of the activity over and over again.'”

-from “Writer Envy,” by Maura Kelly, in the March-April 2012 issue of Poets & Writers.

Thoughts?

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7 responses »

  1. I think you have to keep the critic silent at times to be good (or great). I find that critiques that I feel misdirect me should only be heeded insomuch as they show me that what I’m trying to do isn’t coming through.

    With writing, criticism is for revision.

    Reply
  2. This reminds me of something I read in the biography of a very famous hockey player once. He’d decided that he needed to improve his hand-eye coordination, so he spent hours upon hours tossing a small rubber ball against the wall and catching it, alternating hands, creating patterns (left hand, right hand, left hand, right hand, etc.) and mastering them and then creating new patterns.

    Tedious, right? He was 8 at the time.

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  3. There’s always the danger of excerpting (and excerpting an excerpt at that… especially by David Brooks!) because the quote becomes completely decontextualized, but what this made me think about was something I’ve been pondering quite a bit lately, which is the difference between writers and other creative people and, for lack of better word, performers– the degree to which we practice our craft… and the degree to which we even feel that we *should.* In most other creative and performance-based professions, including sports, practice is standard– lots and lots of tedious practice. But I think that many writers think that they can just sit down and write and whatever they produce will be “worthy” as a product.

    Reply
    • Amazing to come across this as I spent all yesterday thinking about it! My sister is trained as a classical pianist and she used to spend 8 hour days practicing the piano, and that used to seem absolutely incredible to me. When I worked on a senior thesis (a creative non-fiction narrative about Cuba) I realized for the first time that writing really is a practice, and I needed to make sure I had time to practice! It’s interesting to contrast writing to the idea of performing, but it does seem to make a lot of sense.

      If interested, you can see my guest post here: http://yogipianist.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/the-art-of-practice-by-rebekah-olstad/

      Reply
  4. “But I think that many writers think that they can just sit down and write and whatever they produce will be “worthy” as a product.”

    Oh yes. Plenty of this going around.

    Reply
  5. Hi Julie – I’m a little late in reading this post, but I just wanted to thank you for it. I took classical piano lessons for seven years growing up, but had never explicitly thought about transferring the need to practice over to writing until now. I would always dread piano lessons if I hadn’t practiced enough in the week before, knowing for sure my teacher would notice, so I’m definitely going to start practicing more as a writer now to once again keep my fingers (and mind!) nimble. Thank you again, I’m looking forward to reading more here!

    Reply

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