Achieving Writing Mastery and Defining Success
In the end it's all about practice. There's this notion of, to get to mastery of any field you have to put in 10,000 hours. Just so you know what that means that's like 90 minutes a day for 20 years. So, I don't mean that to be an obstacle. Actually, you've all put in a bunch of time already. Like reading, and writing. Growing up, experiencing the world. It's also not a mathematical formula. Malcolm Gladwell popularized this notion in the book Outliers. It came from a researcher, his name was K Anders Ericsson who studied elite performers and what went into becoming an elite performer. And the average was 10,000 hours of practice. But it's not like your brain is ticking up the time and arriving at that 10,000 hours. You know it's more just the idea that you've got to practice a lot. Ray Bradbury says for ten years I wrote at least one short story a week, somehow guessing that a day would finally come when I truly got out of the way and let it happen. And the thing I love about this was...
he was writing the stories to learn. He wasn't writing the stories to get published necessarily. So hew was putting in the hours. But the type of practice is really important too. I'll tell one story about there's this notion of practicing deliberately. And what deliberate practice means is that you're scrutinizing your practice and focusing on certain things that you can improve rather than just writing a lot of words just for the sake of writing a lot of words. And for me this rang true because when I was a kid I golfed a lot. And when I was 15 I hit like, now I know, I totally plateaued. But I was practicing a lot. I was playing like 36 holes a day in the summer, you know, but I never improved. I was swinging the club a lot but I was swinging it in the same way every time. So a deliberate practice would have been having somebody observe me and coach me on how to change my swing, you know. And then practice new sings and new approaches. So think about when you're writing on autopilot what you can do. Is you dialogue weak, are you a weak plotter? Is your suspense weak? Think about different elements and think about ways to build those skills to make them better. And practice being comfortable in discomfort. That's the thing, when you change your golf swing it's really uncomfortable suddenly but you'll get used to it. And I think the same thing happens with your writing is you're going to feel uncomfortable trying new things but you will get comfortable in them and they will help you. And then evaluate your stories and investigate new ways of writing. So for me I'm always reading a poetry book. I'm not a poet, but I'm always reading a poetry book and I write poetry. Because I feel like poetry enhances my prose. So I would love to write in a genre I haven't written in to pick up those skills as well. So think about different ways that you can stimulate your writing and even take a workshop or come to an event like this to help you think about it. So finally this notion of success I think hang over. This is going back to the beginning of why write. What makes it meaningful, what do we expect out of it? And I think calibrating your notion of success is a really good way to keep yourself writing. I'm going to actually read from my book that just came out this fall, Pep Talks for Writers and so this 52, you know, sort of short essays on the creative process. Some of the things we've already gone over and then there are exercises at the end of each chapter to carry it out. And the reason I'm going to read from this now, woops, is that this is a subject I really, I want to make sure I articulate it well. And I feel like if I'm just going to talk about I might miss something so I hope you'll indulge me in this finale. The question of what success is might be the most important question you can ask yourself as a writer and as a person. We live in a culture obsessed with success in so many forms. Whether its money, status or beauty. Is success getting a book published, becoming a best selling author, hanging out with other best selling authors and being invited to speak at fancy conferences? Adulation from friends and family, thousands of social media followers, or the money that comes from a best selling book and all the spa treatments and clothes you can buy as a result? Well that is great, why not? But are those the reasons you picked up a pen the first time to write? After a good writing session, are such things the payoff that make it all worth it? I believe that living in reverence of our imaginations is the best way to preserve the essence of our being. Our art provides our spirit with a plenitude that can't be found in any other way. Even though we know that whatever we write will never be quite as ideal as the words we've imagined, the effort of trying to capture what it is to be sentient weaves its way into the breathe of our lives. We want to feel heard, we want to touch others, and we want to make something remarkable. Seizing our creativity for it's own sake brings on an immediacy, a resplendency, and the urgency of our own possibility. I know a writer who frequently compares her book sales to another. She monitors other people's Twitter followers, she gets upset when other are invited to a conference and she is not. We all have egos of course, we all want to be loved, but when I hear her talk I sometimes wonder why she writes. She has an agent, an editor, a book deal, but I wonder if somewhere along the way she lost track of the gift of it all.The gift she has to write a story, the gift she can give others through her story. It is the talent which is not in use that is lost or atrophies, and to bestow one our creations is the surest way to invoke the next, writes Louis Hyde in The Gift. Hyde cites the story of Hermes who invented the first musical instrument, the Lyre, and gave it to his brother, Apollo, who then was inspired to invent the pipes. One creation spawns another. Being an artist goes beyond the work of art you create. It will flow into your life and influence how you treat people, the way you love, the way you tasted food, the way you stare up at the sky, the way you vote, the way you drive, the way you wash dishes, I'm serious about this. It will change all those things. Still, is writing a novel useful, many a person has asked? Does writing, creativity have a practical end? I wonder if the best things in the world have been achieved in disregard of a notion of usefulness. When people have set out to climb mountains, sail across seas, or fly a plane around the world, I think curiosity drove them as much as gaining anything of measurable value. To be moved by the compulsion to make and explore, to move just for the pure restless sake of moving without tallying up any costs or consequences so often leads somewhere. There is an irony there. How are we to decide what the standards of utility should be when it comes to the creative pursuits? The arts are increasingly seen as dispensable luxuries. But if we narrow the openings for our curiosity by arguing that it's impractical, financially unrewarding, risky, then the motivation to engage in creative behavior is easily extinguished. The conventional notions of success condemn the voltage of our ideas, water down the fragrant broth of our thoughts. When an impulsive curiosity strikes it's best to follow it with a passion that moves forward in disregard of destiny or consequences. Others might consider you a fool, but one person's passion is always unintelligible to others. Our potency is defined by our ability to hear a story's cries no matter how faint. If we don't write that story our blood becomes anemic, our eyes fade into listlessness, our spirit atrophies. Our stories yearn only for their own freedom. And when we give them that freedom they give us a sacred liberty. We must find nourishment within the work itself not through any approbation or celebration others deem to grant us. We write so that we can speak back to the world, we write to assert our presence, we write to narrow the chasm between what we see and feel and connect with one another, we write to penetrate into unseen worlds around us and explore different possibilities of life. We write because we'll feel empty if we don't. We write because we witnessed something that others need to hear about. We write to serve the story that is calling us. We write because in this world of data collection and data analysis we know there is a poetic truth of life that matters more. We write to hear ourselves and in hearing ourselves to save ourselves. Every story creates the writer to write it. Life and art easily wind themselves into one so your writing should give substance to your sense of self. The world is always offering us new whorls of material, new streams of sources. We're constantly being given the magical opportunity to make and remake ourselves with the aid of a story's lens to see the world through. It doesn't matter if no one in the world wants that story it only matters that we want it. So must perform, we must imagine, we must be, we must write. So back to that initial thing, Your story matters, you have a story in you. I urge you to write it. Thank you.
Where can people find you, I want to make sure people do know how to continue.
I bet there's a slide here.
There's my book. There's a slide.
There you go.
I fortunately was one of the early Grant Faulkners on the internet so most of the ways you can find me involve Grant Faulkner. So I'm on Facebook and Twitter, would be great to see you there. I also have a website Grantfaulkner.com so yeah.
And of course National Novel-
National Novel Writing Month and 100 Word Story. Sign up for National Writing Month, it's free, we're non-profit, we just want to help you write your story. And so, yeah, sign up, it's every November.