Deliberate Practice and Cal Newport’s “Five Rules”

It’s clear that being more present while doing deep work is the precondition for accomplishing much of anything, particularly for much of anything good.

I’ve had this experience once or twice working with an editor.  While good editors are largely a thing of the past, every once in a while I’ve run across one who hasn’t heard the news yet, and it’s unforgettable: someone holds you accountable until you produce the best writing you can.

What I’m relearning as I work on my novel is how to serve as my own editor.  How to hold myself accountable.  How to get the best writing I can out of myself.

Not easy.  My unconscious believes that if I tell a story at a dinner party I’ve essentially written the story.  My unconscious is easily pleased with substandard or off-the-cuff work.  Fruits of years of lousy habit.

So holding myself accountable means going over and over the material until it’s right.

In this morning’s session I went over the same two sentences for an hour, and finally got them, not right, sadly, but better.  I’ll try to overcome the urge to move on tomorrow when I resume.

This is a kind of “deliberate practice”, in the sense that Wikipedia and Malcolm Gladwell and others mean it.

I’ve been reading Cal Newport’s book on gettiing work you love and he’s all about a systematic approach to getting better at what you do.

He has a five-step proposal for approaching getting better at knowledge work:

  1. Identify what kind of knowledge-work “market” you are working in: is it a “winner-take-all” market (only one way to be “best” in this market: e.g., writing novels) or an “auction” market (variety of ways to be “best”, e.g., tech maven).  Novel writing is a “winner-take-all” market.
  2. Figure out what kind of work you have to be good at to prevail in that market.  You have to be good at writing a novel to win in the novel-writing market.
  3. Define “good”.  For novel-writing, it’s story, plot, description, character, dialog, suspense
  4. Work it
  5. Keep Working it

Good advice.  But, like all good advice, the advice itself is pretty obvious once you think about it.  It’s holding yourself to it that’s hard.

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