It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon here in New York, and I’m getting ready to work on my next chapter in my WIP. I have a chocolate chip cookie and a mug of hot cocoa at a local coffee shop. My grizzled warrior of a Macbook open to one of my favorite blogs, 99U. It’s published by the geniuses behind Behance and focuses on the intersections of creativity and productivity- something near and dear to all of us.
In one of their latest articles The Single-Most Powerful Attribute All Geniuses Share, which links to the full article here, they begin dismantling the myth of the creative genius. It’s one of those sacred cows society clings to, that creative genius is something only a few people have. As if that wasn’t bad enough, people think those rarefied humans wander off and a short time later they reappear with a masterpiece.
I’m here to tell you that is unequivocal bullshit. A false idol for the ages. It’s not even close to reality, even for those who are geniuses.
When I was a TA in grad school, I’d meet with students to discuss their essays. I remember one student telling me, “I feel so stupid. You’re so much better than I am.” As soon as she said it, I remembered being a freshman sitting in my professor’s office after I had done poorly on an essay. “I’m so stupid. You’re so much better than I am,” I said. What she said next set the record straight.
You’re not stupid. You’re inexperienced. I’ve just had 19 years more pratice than you.
The p-word. Practice. Writing is something we do every day in so many ways so we think it should be easy. I think all of us deep down know it’s not, but it not only takes practice, but perfect practice to get better. Perfect here doesn’t mean it’s free from mistakes. What it does mean is that you not only learn from your mistakes, but you’ve got a game plan to improve. “Well, how do I do this?” you ask. It just so happens an event is coming up that I think is perfect practice.
In case you’re not aware, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Writers around the globe cheer each other on as they write a 50,000 word novel in a month. It’s challenging, rewarding, and along with meeting amazing people it’s the ultimate perfect practice. Even if you don’t sign up for the official challenge, it doesn’t mean you can’t follow along. Regardless if you sign up for NaNoWriMo or not, here’s some tips to help you move towards perfect practice.
- Write every day. Doesn’t matter if it’s 500 words or 5 minutes, what’s important is you write.
- Proofread. You’re allowed to say something is weak. You’re not allowed to say you’re a terrible person because there is a weak spot.
- Join a writers group on or offline.
- Volunteer to beta read and offer honest, constructive feedback, and ask for the same.
- Pick a weak area (plot, character development, etc.) and do research. Take notes and share your notes with others, then practice!
Literature is the record we have of the conversation between those of us now alive on earth and everyone who’s come before and will come after, the cumulative repository of humanity’s knowledge, wonder, curiosity, passion, rage, grief and delight. It’s as useless as a spun-sugar snowflake and as practical as a Swiss Army knife.