So, You’re a Writer, eh?

One of my great fears is trying to explain the plot to whatever book I’m working on. The latest – Roadside Attractions – was built off the Satanic paranoia of the 80s and 90s and tosses together a renegade devil, the hitwoman sent from Hell to stop him, a ghost, and a pair of ghost hunters who find themselves stuck in the middle of a power-struggle straight out of Hell. It’s not the easiest thing to explain.

Actually, come to think of it, that’s not a bad description. Needs work, but doesn’t totally suck.

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Note: not the actual cover.

I’m currently actively working on the 4th Henchmen book and that gets even more difficult to sum up succinctly because it’s the 4th (and final) book in that series and it’s still too early to tell exactly where the plot will take me.

I’m not a good plotter. Other writers have sketches and timelines and plot-points all neatly laid on beer-soaked cocktail napkins or Chinese Excel knock-offs. I just keep all that in my head. The closest I’ve ever come to successfully plotting out a book was Greetings From Sunny Aluna and even that ended quite a bit differently than I’d planned. Originally, Huizhong was going to kill Kevin and then kill herself. It didn’t turn out that way and now I’m stuck figuring out where to take the next book.

Anyway, back to the original task at hand: What’s the book about? I’ve done a bunch of posts on blurbs and even took a shot at loglines (Sean Carlin’s post on loglines is still the gold standard), but I’m still extremely weak at the punchy descriptors. Usually when someone asks me what the book is about, I change the subject and then pretend I don’t speak English.

smoke_bomb_archer

That’s not an adult way to handle things, especially when it comes to something I’d really like to do for a living. If I can’t talk about what I’m writing, there’s no way anyone’s going to be interested in reading it. Saying, “Trust me, it’s really, really good” doesn’t cut the mustard. In fact, it cuts the cheese.

I think it all stems from that deep-down insecurity everyone has. There’s that nagging sensation that someone you work with will say, “I read your book. It sucks.” Then you’re stuck at work with everyone knowing you’re the guy who writes shitty books. And that can’t be good for the ol’ ego.

I’ve met plenty of other people over the years who have zero problems talking about their books. I’ve even met people who will happily tell you they’re taking a year off work to write the next great American novel and it would be really great if you could give them some money to do that. To those people – the ones that want help funding their yearlong vacation in South France – I say, “Just write the fucking thing. You can do it in your living room and you don’t even have to take off your pajamas”.

I’m good at the “just write the fucking thing” part. Over the years, I’ve gotten disciplined to where I write something every night, usually 500-1000 words or so. Now I need to get better at getting people to “just read the fucking thing”.

If you have any tips on that, leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what’s worked for you and what was a waste of time and money.

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Now if I could only get my hands to do this.

On a somewhat related note, I’ve always been curious about my typing speed. I code all day and write at night, so I’m used to a keyboard. I can type reasonably well with my eyes closed. In fact, I’ve even fallen asleep and kept typing (that generated some…interesting text), but I’ve never tested my typing speed. According to Live Chat’s free online typing test, I type about 64 words/minute with 100% accuracy. Crunching the numbers, that means 3840 words an hour. Theoretically, if I didn’t need luxuries like food and sleep, I could write a ninety thousand word book in under 24 hours. That’s way faster than my usual six to nine months.

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No, Seriously. You Can’t Do That

My son is nearing his test for his Junior 1st Black in Kenpo. This summer, after years of training, he’ll be at that first plateau that we look at as the really the first step in a life-long journey.

Of course, being steeped in the martial arts these days means you have to wade through a ton of crap and lies that have sprung up over the centuries. Recently, on the drive home, he told me it was possible to hit someone’s nose so hard it sends shards of bone into their brain and kills them instantly. The trick, he assured me, was to use an upward palm strike so that you blast that nose with everything you’ve got.

In case you’re wondering, it looks like this:

Ninja hoods and Marines shirts add +5 to your strikes. But don’t tell anyone I told you that.

This exact strike – and the killing theory behind it – has been the stuff of martial arts legends for as long as I can remember. We talked about it on the playground when I was in school and everyone knew someone who knew someone who totally swore it worked and back off or I’m gonna test it on you and then you’ll be dead and no one will care.

It’s been used in books and movies. This was the strike that got Nicolas Cage busted at the beginning on Con Air. It seems any time someone needs to die from a single strike, this is the tired old trope that gets trotted out. Unfortunately, it’s utter hogwash. Pushing nose bones into someone’s brain falls into the same category of fighting nonsense as the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique and the Hurticane. Simply put, the human body doesn’t work like that. Your nose is mostly cartilage (sexy cartilage, in my case) and there’s another layer of bone behind your sinus cavities that you’d have to pierce into order to shove bits of nose into someone’s brain.

That’s not to say it’s not going to hurt like hell. The nose is always a good target in a fight because it’s so close to everything else on your face. I’ve been popped in the beak a time or two and I can assure it’s no fun. Your sinuses swell up, your nose starts leaking fluids you’d rather it didn’t, and your eyes leak water like a comic book fan watching someone burn the original X-Men. In other words, it’s a great place to hit someone if you want to take the fight out of them quickly. It’s not always an easy target to hit, but it is effective. It’s just not deadly in and of itself.

What about all that anecdotal evidence about people getting killed with one punch? Is that all bull, too? Well, yes and no. It has happened, but in most cases death comes from someone hitting their head when they fall down.

I guess the takeaway from that is if you want to kill someone with one strike, make sure they hit their on something hard on the way down.

So, if you’re writing about a fight scene and want to have your main character kill someone with a single blow, choose something realistic. If you want to have your character do some really crazy stuff, look into Dim Mak. On the other hand, if you’re in the middle of a fight and are worried about killing someone with a palm strike to the nose, don’t fret. Just fire that sucker and get the heck out of Dodge.

This gif cracks me up. Fun fact about Bolo Yeung: he swam from China to Taiwan to escape oppression. Fun fact about VanDamme: he can do the splits.

Just make sure your opponent doesn’t hit their head on the way down.

Show Me The Stuff

Here’s an interesting factoid for you: The cast of the original Star Trek were among the last actors that were trained by picture. Apparently, when they were learning to act, part of their training consisted of showing them pictures of people doing particular faces to represent various emotions. This is what a scared person looks like. This is what a happy person looks like. So on and so forth.

Better than his Spocked face.

In a way, it makes a certain kind of sense. As a TV actor, part of the job is making sure the audience understands what’s going on. If you make a particular face, everyone knows you’re shocked. Then we don’t have to expend additional energy trying to decide who’s shocked, who’s got ennui, and who’s blasé about about life; we can focus on the antics of Spock and Bones.

What does all this have to do with price of tea in China? Funny you should ask. But first, allow me to digress.

Back when I was still teaching Kenpo, I learned more teaching than I did learning. The reason was I had to not only be able to teach the techniques as I learned them, but be able to explain why the technique worked. It required an in-depth understanding to do it well.

Editing can change things.

Editing a book is kind of like teaching. It forces you to look at things differently. While I’m editing someone’s book, I’m also mentally editing my own works and noting what works and what doesn’t work when I’m reading it instead of writing it.

I’ve recently been editing a book for some folks. While it’s not a bad book, there are a few things in there that had me scratching my head and a few things that could really be expanded. In the writing world, we love to say “show, don’t tell.” The things that needed expanded fell into the “show, don’t tell” category. It wasn’t that they were bad lines, they just needed some expansion.

I’m not going to reproduce their lines here. Like I said, they’re not bad lines. But you see bad lines all the time. Little throw-away lines that would be easy to turn from bland to interesting.

Take this:

“I could tell she was upset.”

It’s a classic example of tell, not show. It’s also boring and feels half-assed. To make it interesting, look back to the way the original cast of Star Trek was trained and start asking question. How could I tell she was upset? Well, she looked upset. What does that look like? If you were to paint a picture of someone who was upset, what would it look like?

Steam always comes out of ears when people are upset. Seriously, watch a cartoon sometime.

That’s the essence of showing instead of telling.

An upset person can scowl, furrow their brow, snort, frown, grimace, narrow their eyes, glare, yell, blow steam out of their ears, and break things. Think about a person you’ve known and what he or she looked like when they were upset. Then write that.

Instead of “I could tell she was upset” how about:

“Her glare could peel the paint off a battleship. Those expressive brown eyes I love so much wouldn’t meet my gaze. She was completely focused on the bent spoon in her hand when she said, ‘I can’t believe you cheated at Street Fighter 2. I had that match and you know it’.”

Without ever saying “she’s upset” we know she’s upset. If in doubt, toss in a line about steam coming out of her ears.

Show it, don’t tell it.

Got any tips for showing instead of telling? Drop ’em in the comments and let the world see. In the interim, keep writing.

Writing Process

 

I type like the wind.

Stephen King has repeated said he writes every day. I saw him when he was in Albuquerque being interviewed on stage by George R.R. Martin. Martin, at one point in the interview asked, “How do you write so fast?” Or words to that effect. I seem to remember him asking “How do you write so fucking fast?”, but that may just be my unrequited love affair with the word ‘fuck’. Either way it was asked, King’s response was “I write six good pages a day. Every day.” Again, words to that effect. I don’t seem to remember King saying, “I write six good fucking pages a day”, but he might have.

At any rate, this was not new information. I think everyone knows Stephen King writes every day. He’s been forward about that for years. After all, it’s his job and you don’t blow off work just because you don’t feel like doing it. On the other hand, George R.R. Martin is famous for taking years to knock out a new novel. In Martin’s defense, let’s face it, A Song of Fire and Ice is some crazy complicated shit and each scene has to work with every other scene that has come before it. So, it’s not entirely surprising that the TV series will likely end before the book series.

So, what does all this have to do with the price of tea in China? I’m of the opinion that writing every day is a good thing. It could be a couple lines, it could be a few hundred, but I write something every day almost without fail. For me, it’s just become something I do out of habit and I feel bad if I don’t do it. Writing is my way of unwinding and I feel a bit lost if I don’t get some in every night.

House is on fire, but I’m almost done with this chapter.

But that’s not necessarily for everyone. A couple days ago I came across a Twitter thread about exactly that thing. The general gist of the thread was that feeling like you have to write every day is bullshit. Life, it seems, oftentimes has other plans for our free time. Be it work, play, or a new Star Wars movie coming out, sometimes you simply can’t find time every day to put words on pages.

Besides, as I’ve repeatedly said, I didn’t start writing to follow everyone else’s rules. The world is already full of people following everyone else’s rules. My rule is trying my damnedest to write something every day, but it’s not for everyone. Rules are for suckers, anyway. Make your own rules.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post about the magic of writing. Now that the year is coming to a close, I’d like to reiterate what I wrote then: If there’s something you love to do, find time to do it. It doesn’t matter how far you go. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. It matters that you go.

So, get out there and go.

What about you? Got any thoughts on writing every day? Drop ’em in the comments; I love comments and am usually fairly good at replying to them.

And now, your moment of Zen.

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Let Me Dialogue With You

This is the full text of a guest post I did on Rebecca Cahill’s blog back in September. If you get a chance, drop by and say, “Howdy” or whatever floats your goat. She’s got a great blog and it’s worth checking out.

Back in high school, I had a buddy who thought outside the box. I’ll call him CD to protect his identiy. CD used to write random thoughts, some of which were funny, others thoughtful, and try to sell them to the Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to his door. In his mind, if they were going to try to sell copies of The Watchtower to him, he was going to sell his own magazine to them.

He never did manage to sell any magazines, but he’s been a wealth of stories for me.

One day during a college break, we were sitting in the McDonald’s in the local Walmart and shooting the breeze. It would seem he had a lot of free time on his hands in college and decided on the ultimate way to pick up women at the bar. He was going to buy an Armenian Air Force uniform he’d found somewhere and try to convince people he’d flown Harriers during the Falklands War.

Yes, this was a long time ago. Thanks for asking.

Since he couldn’t do a British accent to save his own butt, he’d come up with some non-distinct, but vaguely foreign-sounding accent. He’d been observing the foreign students at UNM and had discovered a way to really sell his story. If someone were to ask him a question, he’d pause briefly, like he was translating the question from English to whatever language he was pretending to be fluent in, before answering.

“You really flew Harrier jump jets during the Falklands War?”

Pause. “Yes. Yes, I did.”

<Swoon>

I don’t know if he ever tried it in real life, but I’m guessing probably not. However, if you ever come across a guy in a bar wearing an Armenian Air Force uniform and claiming to have flown Harriers during the Falklands War, tell him I said hi and remind him he’s got a wife at home who may or may not know about his past life.

I’m not sure what Armenian Air Force uniforms look like, so this will have to do.

CD’s attention to detail in building a character for the sole purpose of picking up women at dive bars in Albuquerque, New Mexico shows the level of effort that should go into writing characters and, more importantly, the way characters interact with the world you’re creating. It’s the little things that sell characters. Little vocal quirks, like pausing before speaking, add a depth of realism that you just can’t get by slapping some words on a page.

Now, this little diatribe of mine is less about character creation and more about dialogue. Unfortunately, those two things are very intertwined with each other. Also unfortunately, the dialogue aspect of character creation is one of the easiest things to completely screw up. How many times have you come across an excellent narrative only to have it nosedive the first time a character talks?

“I would never do something like, for in doing that, I have forgone my something.”

Seriously, who talks like that?

Writers tend to be introverts. Not always, but there’s definitely a trend that way. You can’t spend the day hammering away at a typewriter, smoking, and swilling whisky like it’s fitness water if you’re extroverted. Don’t get me wrong, introversion can be a good thing. It’s hard to craft worlds and create things to put in those worlds when someone wants to, you know, talk and do stuff.

I’m talking to my characters, thank you very much.

And now, for no reason, Captain James T. Kirk wearing a green woman instead of an Armenian Air Force Uniform.

When we spend too much alone – whisky doesn’t count as an interactive friend – we start to forget what people are really like. Before you yell, “So what?” and start throwing things at the computer, remember this: regular people are the ones you’re trying to sell books to. And regular people like to see things that look real to them. As we’ve already established, one of the best ways to make a character look real is through the way they talk.

But dialogue is more than just character development, it serves other important purposes in a book. Everyone loves to say, “Show, don’t tell”, and dialogue is one of the best ways to do that. If you’ve got exposition to handle, try letting the characters talk about it. If there’s a complex plot substructure or twist, let the characters explain it rather than resorting to a few paragraphs explaining why something happened.

“You mean the minions of Hell aren’t really bad guys so much as misunderstood folks that have been the victims of a multi-millennium smear campaign propagated by a group that had a profit motive?”

“Exactly! These guys aren’t the real bad guys, those guys over there are!”

“My God! It was Old Man Jenkins leading them all along!”

When owls gasp

Okay, not exactly my best dialogue, but you get the point. Let the characters do the heavy lifting when explaining things. It makes for more interesting writing and, let’s face it, it’s a time-honored tradition. Just ask Aristotle.

Now we’ve got a couple good reasons to work with dialogue in a story: character development and showing rather than telling. The problem is, if your dialogue isn’t realistic, no one will read it and all your time spent putting your characters in Armenian Air Force uniforms and letting them explain the dynamics of your world will be for naught.

So, how do you write realistic dialogue? Well, fortunately, that’s the easy part. It does require a modicum of effort, but it’s effort well-spent. Go back to that idea that regular people read books and they want to read about people that seem real. Then go listen to some real people talking. Bada bing, bada boom, you’ve got the makings of good dialogue.

The real world, no matter how irksome it may be sometimes, is full of examples of how to write good dialogue. The first thing you have to do is toss aside all the rules of grammar that we’re all supposed to adhere to when we’re writing. Follow the rules in the text, but realize people don’t speak in grammatically correct sentences. People talk over each other, they use contractions and colloquialisms, conversations wander, points don’t always go where we think they’re supposed to go. Sometimes people forget their points entirely.

My buddy in college and I could spend all night talking. This was back before texting and when Geocities was still a thing, so talking was a good way to pass the time waiting for the damned modem to connect. Our conversations went all over the place and outsiders had trouble keeping up. One night, he, his girlfriend, and I were all out by the fountain chatting and looking at the stars. As per usual, the conversation drifted all over the place like a drunken frat boy and his poor girlfriend was feeling a bit lost.

“You guys shift topics constantly,” she said, “how do you do that?”

“Yep,” I replied, “We shift gears so fast…”

And then I lost my witty retort and ended with the lame-ass “we go really fast.”

“We shift gears so fast…we go really fast.”

I swear, I actually had something for that and lost it mid-sentence. Poof. Gone. Vanished. I want to say my buddy wrote that whole scene into a book of his own.

When your real life hits a book

People do that kind of thing all the time. Conversation is rarely linear, sometimes doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and almost never follows the grammatical rules that govern writing. If you want to make your dialogue more realistic, listen to people talking and use what you learn. Toss aside the monologuing, kick the perfect sentence structure to the curb, and revel in all the things you don’t get to do in the main part of the text.

You’re not supposed to use “ain’t” in good writing because it’s not a word? People use it all the time, so stuff it into dialogue. Do you love thinking in run-on sentences, but worry about getting tagged by grammar Nazis? Let a character babble away. Give them linguistic quirks like pausing before talking or saying “Okay” a lot at the end of sentences. Christoph Fischer did an excellent job with this in his book In Search Of A Revolution. In that book, Fischer had a character repeat words when he was stressed or otherwise out of his element. “No, no, no. That’s not what’s supposed to happen.” Things like that.

The trick here is that the dialogue must fit the character. It’s unlikely you’ll ever have an aristocrat use the word “ain’t”, but it ain’t outside the realm of possibilities if you develop the character that way. This is where you embrace the character with all his or her flaws and really dig into their head. Remember, just like real people, characters reveal their natures through not only what they do, but what they say, so the dialogue has to fit the psychology of the character. Since you created the character, you’re the ultimate arbiter of whether a line of dialogue fits a character’s development. As long as you as a writer don’t look at what your characters are saying and think it’s out of character, it’s unlikely anyone else will, either.

One gotcha here: a character’s linguistic quirks and dialogue have to remain intact throughout the whole of the book or story. I had a character in a recent book who I decided shouldn’t use contractions. The last few pages of the story explained why, so it became important that none of his dialogue had a contraction. It was nightmarish looping through the whole text and verifying Chan never shortened his words.

In the end, it might pay off or it might not. It’s possible, that was something most people will ignore or not even notice. That may be a perfect example of taking a linguistic quirk too far, but it did differentiate his dialogue from the rest of the characters who cursed and used contractions with reckless abandon, so it wasn’t a complete waste.

Let your characters live and breathe. Sure, dress them in Armenian Air Force uniforms and let them claim to have flown Harriers, but if you want to make them real, it’s their dialogue that will do that. Pay attention to how people really talk and you’ll be well on your way. Don’t be afraid to copy conversations from your best friend in high school or the quirks your boss gets when she’s mad that the project still isn’t done. Take all those things and weave them into the story. Observe the world and use what you find to enhance your writing. Your dialogue will be that much more realistic because it’s based on real conversations.

Twittering

Keep going. Keep getting better.

Twitter catches a lot of crap for being the digital version of the Wild Wild West. While that may be partially true in a “not racists, but #1 with racists” kind of way, that doesn’t mean the whole shebang is a shit-show. And, to be fair to Twitter, they’ve nuked a bunch of White Supremacist groups. There are plenty of good reasons to explore Twitter and a lot of good things can be found there, too.

At the very least, you’ve got #caturday, so you can haz cheezburger if you’d like.

I’ve used Twitter for a variety of writing-related reasons, ranging from seeing what’s out there and dropping ads, to playing the writing prompt games.

A couple posts back, I wrote a post about the idea of getting better at things by doing them a lot. Like most of my posts, it was a rambling affair, full of magic and heroism that talked around the issue as much as engaging it. That post was partially a reaction to various people I’ve met who  worry about not being good enough at writing to write a book. To those people, I’ll reiterate: Yeah, you’re probably not, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t just write the freaking thing even if you’re not an expert at writing. Do something often enough, look for a feedback loop, and, if you take the feedback into account, you’ll likely get better at it.

Don’t listen to him. Zoidberg hates everyone.

In other words, just start writing. The more you do it, the more natural it will become. Pay attention to criticisms, provided they’re not completely useless, and you’ll improve. Simple as that.

Now here’s something else to add. When I first started programming, I followed the directions in the book and things happened and I was happy. But, I didn’t really learn to program until I had to sit down and write an application that I didn’t get to choose and I didn’t have the book with handy-dandy directions to follow. It was just “write me a service that will listen for GPS data from trains, figure out where they are, and determine how far off schedule they are based on position and time.”

That’s when the rubber hit the road. Or the wheels hit the iron. Whatever.

The point being, I didn’t get good at it until I had to do something where I didn’t get to choose what the program was going to do. There was also a lot of feedback from the customer about what things were working, what weren’t, and how many things needed to be changed. In the end – such as it is – I wrote what they wanted and got a whole whack of new skills in the process.

Or, in my case, it was trying to figure out how to determine time on target when speed is a huge variable.

Which loops us back to Twitter. In the midst of all the cat pictures and ass-random presidential tweets, lies a pretty large group of authors swapping lines back and forth. Do a little digging and you’ll find people tagging tweets with things like #musemon, #2bittues, #1linewed, #thurds, #fictfri, #slapdashsat, and #sunwip. To the unitiated, those may sound like gobbledygook, cockamamie nonsense, or flat-out flumadiddle, but the tags have meaning to the authors that partake in them.

See, Twitter is a vast wasteland and it’s impossible to take in the whole of it, so it’s segmented by hashtags that create little sub-worlds withing the vast miasma of the whole of Twitterdom. Once you learn about those hashtags, you get the keys to the kingdom.

Most of these hashtags have rules. They’re not simple “write whatever you feel like and toss a tag on it” games. Each week, the person responsible for the tag determines a theme for the week. It could be thankful or half-full or angry or whatever. All except #slapdashsat, that’s always theme-free. So, each person that tweets and tags that tweet is expected to follow the theme. In a pure world, you’d find a line from whatever you’re writing that fits and use that. Sometimes, that line doesn’t exist, though, and that’s when the rubber hits the road.

Just like with programming, you can learn a lot from writing according to a spec, even if it is a one-word spec. So, whenever I don’t have a line that will fit, I write one that fits the tag and the book I’m working on. In case you’re wondering, most of those tweets will wind up in the book in some form or another.

This is what I’m working on, by the way.

Now, part of my morning ritual is going over the tweets from the one or two tag games per day I follow and putting up my own tweets. It’s been a great way to see if I can work a word or phrase into whatever I’m working on or sharing something I’d already used in a story. There’s something about being put on the spot that’s helped me craft a few zingers here and there and the process has improved my writing by making me think beyond just what I feel like doing.

Besides, remember that feedback loop that’s so important to getting better at a thing? In the Twitterverse, that feedback comes from likes, retweets, and the odd comment. Hashtag games have become a great way to test lines in front of a group of people I’ve never met and see what works and what doesn’t.

Feel like trying it out? Dig up the hashtag games for the day and post a few tweets. Who knows, maybe you’ll strike gold.

Expert Shmexpert, Just Write The Freakin’ Thing

263h
This picture has absolutely nothing to do with the post, but it is pretty awesome.

There’s a theory out there that states in order to become an expert at something, you have to have 10,000 hours of practice at it. This theory was shot to the world by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book, Outliers. The general gist of Gladwell’s book was there are people who are exceedingly good at doing stuff and what did it take for them to get really good at it? He did some research and used (or misused, depending on who you talk to) the research Anders Ericsson did into what makes people masters of stuff.

Gladwell theorized that at 10,000 hours of practice of doing something, you hit this magical tipping point of greatness and automatically became an expert it by virtue of having done it a whole lot. Outliers became a huge best seller. It’s still sitting at #664 in Amazon’s best sellers. That’s not in a particular category, either, it’s #664 in all of Amazon.

Not bad for a nine-year-old book. Especially one based on a faulty interpretation of what Anders Ericsson’s research actually said. You see, Outliers had some flawed logic in it and that magical 10,000 hour tipping point to greatness isn’t quite so carved in stone as Gladwell would have us believe. In fact, Ericsson’s research didn’t show a 10,000 tipping point and it showed some people could become masters in significantly less time than 10,000 hours, while others could take upwards of 25,000 hours to become masters. A lot of it comes down to not only how much you practice doing something, but how you practice doing it. In other words, quantity of practice isn’t as important as quality of practice. 10,000 hours of doing something wrong will just encode that bad behavior. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Now, I’m not trying to dog on Malcolm Gladwell or in any way diminish his work. Not that he gives two tugs of a dead dog’s dick what I think about him, but even though his logic may have been on the flawed side – something even Anders Ericsson has said – Gladwell was absolutely correct about one thing: if you want to be good at something, do it a lot.

When I first started this blog, I got a comment from someone who said he really wanted to write a book. My response was, “Go write it.” Whoever it was, and I apologize for forgetting his name, replied that he wanted to get better at writing before he tackled writing a book. Or words to that effect. Someday someone will dredge up that comment and prove me wrong, but work with me for now and pretend I’ve got the kind of eidetic memory I like to pretend I have.

The thing is, especially looking back at Ericsson’s research, you can’t get better at something if you don’t do it. Sitting around all day, pondering the ins and outs of that story you want to write is worlds away from sitting around all day actually writing that story you want to write. And guess what? You don’t need permission, you don’t need a year off to kick around Europe (or America, if you happen to be from Europe) looking for inspiration. You only need two things to write: a story to tell and some way to write it.

If the story is already circulating inside your skull, great. Write it down. There are tools galore for writing a book. Technically, you could do it with purloined Bic pens and a lot of cocktail napkins, but if you want to enter the modern era, all you need is a cheap computer and a copy of Open Office.

Don’t expect magic. Don’t expect to blow the doors off the literary world with your first cut. Do expect to spend time writing. Lots of time. Like more than you expect. Henchmen took a few months to write. Transmute took about six months to write. Greetings From Sunny Aluna was around the same. That’s part time, of course, usually an hour or two a night. None of those have blown the doors off the literary world.

While it may seem daunting to gaze at the idea of spending months (or years in some cases) writing a book, this is where you get to employ Ericsson’s research. Every minute you spend makes you better by a minute amount, especially if you’re trying to write well. While you may never hit a tipping point at 10,000 hours and suddenly find yourself the greatest writer, like, ever, you will get better at it.

I guess my point is this: if you want to be really good at something, you have to do that thing. It doesn’t really matter what thing is, you have to actually do it before you can get better at it. Once you start doing it, you’ll naturally find it easier and easier to do, especially once those reviews start coming in and you find yourself wondering why “just” was such an important word that it was in the manuscript 400 times. Edit and move on.

If you want to write a book, go write it. Don’t wait to become an expert writer before you write a book, because the only way to become an expert book writer is to write a book. Just like the best way to become an expert on punching is to hit something, or the best way to become an expert at cycling is to ride a bike.

Of course, after it’s written comes the really scary part: letting someone else read it. But kick the emotional attachment to the curb and listen to what people have to say. That’s the quality of practice portion of doing stuff a lot.

Thoughts? Comments? You know where you can put ’em. Just below in the comments field.