Tuesday, August 4, 2015

How To Get Better At Damn-Well Anything

From Kindle Publishing To Sports And More, Become A Master At Anything With These Tips

master kindle publishing
This post started out as an answer to a question on Quora.

For those of you not familiar with Quora, it's a question and answer platform much like eHow or Answers.com that allows you to use social networking to get answers to your questions, or offering up solutions to the questions being asked.

The original question was how to get better at creative writing.

But honestly, these tips could be used to help you achieve efficiency in pretty much any task you'd like to improve on.





How To Get Better At Writing In 3 Steps



Some of what I'm going to discuss is how to get better in phases. 

The first is the process phase.  This is sitting down, doing the grunt work.  Digging the trenches that are necessary to build your story's universe.  It's the outline, the foundation, the skeleton of getting better. 

The second phase with getting better is called the craft phase of writing.  It's mastering the language and techniques.  It's learning how to edit your writing to make it crisp, or as Earnest Hemingway said "write one true sentence". 

Finally, you need to learn time management skills or as I call it, the life phase.  It's too easy to get distracted, allowing the outside world to interrupt what you're exploring in the inner-most crevices of your imagination.  So learning how to focus on one task then moving on will help you become more effective as well as more efficient. 


The Process Phase



The process phase is like these gears. 

They grind and grind, turning each other in unison, propelling the machine forward. 

If one doesn't work, they whole machine ends.





You need to write.  

The process of writing isn't one that you do only inspired. You need to sit down and work on writing everyday. 

If you want to get better at the process, you need to sit down in the chair (metaphorically speaking) and write.  

You'll learn as you go.  

But basically sit down and write. 

Write daily, regularly even.  

This is true of any task.  From writing, to playing the guitar, to playing basketball.  It's due to spending the necessary time, the hours, needed to get better. 

As I said, write daily, regularly even.  

Jerry Seinfeld talked about not breaking the chain.  He would post a calendar on his wall and make a big "X" every day that he wrote.  Eventually the process took on it's own importance. 

To learn and master a task, you get better by doing a task in specific time periods with highly-focused repetition.  Malcolm Gladwell discusses this as the 10,000 hour rule in his book Outliers: The Story of Success: Malcolm Gladwell: 9780316017930: Amazon.com: Books

But don't worry if, right now, you don't have a lot of time to write.  

You're learning how to get better.  It takes time. 

You need to build up the muscle, and that takes practice to build the endurance.  

Stephen King talks about how he began his writing career by prioritizing and finding time at lunch at his job. He talks about that in his outstanding book, On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft eBook: Stephen King: Kindle Store

Charles Bukowski wrote while working for the US mail department. 

Meanwhile, digital and ebook sensation Hugh Howey (hugh howey: Kindle Store) began to write while working at a bookstore, using his lunch hour to get some prose worked out. 

In that time Hugh Howey wrote his bestseller, WOOL to much acclaim and literally much fortune. 

So it can be done. 


The Craft Phase



To learn the craft of writing involves a few different things.  The first thing to consider is, again, sit down and write.  

Then edit your writing.  But get someone else to look it over.  Preferably someone with more than just basic grammar skills.  Get someone with the ability to take a red line through your most important prose.  Find a set of eyes more clear than your own. A set of eyes that can see the forest AND the trees. 

Then, take the time to think about what it all means, what you're trying to say. What is the larger picture, the broader message of what you're trying to convey.  

This is the theme of your work. 

For a doctor it may be the health of her patients.  For a mechanic it's fixing and maintaining the life of your transmission.  

To the teacher the theme of their work is to make an indelible imprint on the future of society, one student at a time. 

So theme is important. 

Meanwhile, you also need to get better at how to write. 

One major way to accelerate this growth is to mimic a master.  

You should write in your own voice, but should also try styles of those you admire.  

Just sit down, write the first 3 pages of a novel or story you like.  Imitate what someone has already done, and done well.  This is not to publish a plagiarized story, but to learn on a different level the song, the flow that a writer that's not you has already accomplished.  

Think about it in a different art form.  

Musicians learn to play other musicians songs.  

Classic painters are taught to outline and trace the lines and brush strokes of masters.  

The Guild Approach To Apprenticeship


In the past, there were guilds where artists spent years, ten years in fact, under the guidance of a master.  

There were guilds for masonry, guilds for artists, for tanners, for iron workers.  These were kind of like modern unions but ones dedicated to bettering the craft of the practitioners. 

But the work was grueling.  

The apprentice would clean, sweep up the studio, do whatever menial task that was needed to be done.  

It was the karate kid routine of cleaning the pigs stye, of cleaning the slop up for the master in order to make the master's job easier.  

But it also served a larger purpose. 

The master didn't teach the student about everything that they knew, rather it was up to the student to study and mimic the master until one day the student was able to move on from apprenticeship to craftsman.  

Over years of working on the craft, and only after all of those years would they move from craftsman to master. 

Why? 

To learn what works for others and gain the foundation and the fundamentals of what others have mastered.  

Actors take lessons from coaches. Even Academy Award winners take classes to get better. 

Singers have a teacher to make sure that the singer is hitting the right notes and staying in time.  

You learn by doing.  And you learn more by getting corrections from someone who knows. 

Perhaps it's time to bring back the guilds...


The Life Phase



This section is divided into two sub-categories.  The creative side and the discipline side.  

The ultimate battle between the id and the ego.  

In the life phase of getting better at writing, you need to live it.  

Live your life.  Go on walks, commune with nature.  Touch your feet on sand and your face into water. 

Observe the way the light reflects in the trees while the sun is setting.  

Record every moment of it.  Document it.  Write it all down, write it down over and over again.  

Sit in a park and listen to how people talk, touch, laugh and cry with each other.  

Somewhere these observations will appear in the story.  The'll appear when you need them the most, even if they only appear in one story and limited to a line in length.  

The second section of the life phase is time management. 

It's the ego of your creative side.  The one where, just like in the process phase, you sit down and get to work.  

But you need to be organized - one of ego's greater traits - when you do this. 

Life Happens.  

It happens to everyone, everywhere.  We have a finite amount of time on this Earth, and with it, we have a finite amount of energy to accomplish all that we want. 

And life doesn't care that you're spinning the All-American Masterpiece in your skull, waiting to unleash it on the world.  You have bills to pay, mouths to feed and jobs to get to in order to take care of those responsibilities.  

There's never a good time to get started, there'll always be something else that comes up.  

So you need to find a way to block out the time and sequester yourself within your world. 

Find a way to turn off emails and your phone.  For god's sake turn off your phone. And TV is a no-no.  It will suck the minutes and hours from you like a Vampire draining a victim.  

One technique to help is set realistic time goals. 

The Pomodoro Technique


 I've written about this before on the blog, and you can check out the articles by clicking HERE (The Pomodoro Technique)  and HERE (Time Management Tips).

What the Pomodoro Technique teaches is to set small standards of time with specific breaks built into the process.  

First, get a timer.  

Set it for a small, realistic amount of time you can work on your writing (or any other task).  

Second, sit down and write (or get to work). 

Third, and this is most important, when the timer goes off, take a specific break from ALL activities.  

STOP - that's the key.  When the timer sounds, you have to stop.  Get up and get away from what you were working on.  

The recommended start is 20 minutes of work, followed by 5 minutes of ZERO activities related to the work you were doing. It'll help you relax.  
   

 It's interval training for work.

Just like a workout plan, you need time to recover those muscles that you were exerting, and we all know that the brain is an organ but also one giant muscle

That means it needs down time after exertion as well. 

Anything you want to master is a process.  You wouldn't want a surgeon coming straight from High School to perform open-heart surgery on you, would you? 

Of course not.  



It takes years of practice, focused, attentive practice to master a subject.  But if you work daily, on small manageable tasks, you too can master what you're after. 

These 3 phases of task mastery we discussed will help you become better, faster.  

From the process phase to the craft phase and finally, the life phase, learning how to manage all three will help you. 

But you have to sit down and start.  That's the secret to any journey.