The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, February 13, 2012

Why be average?

I've been asked to respond to a thoughtful blog post on the "Write on the River" site. They're flying me to Washington in May to lecture on writing suspense and SF, and I guess they wanted a little preview of whatever I'll be offering.

The blog post was, specifically, a newbie writer thinking about all of the obstacles to "making it", given that it requires, on average, 10,000 hours of practice to become expert in anything. By "Steve's" reckoning, that would place him in his 70's or even 80's.

Let's explore his assumptions (which are excellent, but not written in stone.)

The first is that it requires 10,000 hours of practice to gain mastery in a given subject. This is true, and I love the quantification. Cuts through the B.S. Not willing to put in that kind of time? Get out of the way and leave room for those of us who are.

But, that said...if you're willing, it is possible to slice thousands of hours off that average. In fact, your intent should be to NOT BE AVERAGE. Right? The term "average" has nothing to do with individuals. You might never make it. Or, you might hit it "out of the park" your first time at back. It takes the average person four years to earn a black belt in the average martial art. Took me seventeen years. But then, the average person earns a heck of a lot less than I life evens out.

Let's look at things Steve can do to speed up his process, relate these things to writing (generally) , my current screenplay project (specifically) and then life excellence across the board.

1) He wants to write a novel, but has never published. WRONG. Start with short stories. The learning curve is HUGELY faster with short stories, and you still learn everything you need to write books. I've heard every excuse, believe me. If you're already working on a book, then split your time 50-50% between the two forms. Part of the psychology here can be applied to any other task. When confronted by a vast task, break it down into smaller precursive tasks that can be finished in a week, or better still, a single day.

2) Look for skills you already possess, and transfer them to the new area. Write about what you know rather than immersing yourself in new research. Do you have discipline? Time management skills? Insight into human psychology? Do people say you're funny? Sexy? Have you watched a parent die? Raised a child? Created a business? Learned to ride a bicycle? Can you enter "flow" state easily? Whatever your current life, if you can find the arenas in which you already have talent, you can "cluster" them to increase your association and excitement, and hence your focus. You'll be thinking about your project all the time. And that cuts hours off your total. In my screen project I'm combining my love of martial arts, 60's-70's era Los Angeles, personal development, human adulthood, and tribalism into a cocktail that is keeping me up nights!

3) Model the behaviors of experts. Find at least three people who are good at your chosen discipline. Use the Neuro-Linguistic Programming approach of examining their

a) belief systems (what to they feel about the subject?)

b) mental syntax (how and in what order do they think about the subject?)

c) use of physiology (what physical actions do they take connected with the subject? Note posture, muscle tension, facial expressions and breathing patterns).

4) Concentrate on the process rather than the product. If you want to beat the 10k threshold, stop watching the clock. Stop caring whether or not you get there. Concentrate on "the thing itself"--the day to day process of writing. Or performing any other skill. Your focus has to be on THIS MOMENT of your writing, not some future goal. The reward must be the total immersion in the flow of work, not on what someone else might think of what you have done.

I have to work a little every single day on my script, and not look at the end product--who might see it, buy it, whatever. I must get my satisfaction NOW, not later. Tomorrow is promised to no one. It must be fun, and satisfying, and uplifting, and intense TODAY.

"Act NOW. There is never any time but NOW. And there never WILL be any time but cannot act where you are not. YOu cannot act where you have been. And you cannot act where you are going to be. Do not worry about whether yesterday's work was well done. Do not worry about whether tomorrow's work will be excellent or foul. Take care of NOW, this moment, this single day...and the rest will come to you.


1 comment:

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