Once upon a time, I found an interesting topic on how to learn a new skill.
I wanted to become one of the best writers who ever lived — a somewhat ambitious and cliche goal for any fresh young writer.
So, I tried this fascinating idea called deliberate practice. It was sweet and eye-opening.
What Is Deliberate Practice?
Researchers have been trying to understand what the best top performers in each field do differently. Early findings suggest that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Further research by Karl Eriksen discovered that it takes more than that.
You need to spend years working and training yourself in difficult or greater challenges in your area of expertise.
Deliberate practice is a relentless, systematic, bit-size approach to learning or becoming an expert in a field. It involves repetition and practicing small or less-difficult learning activities for some time, then improving the difficulty by introducing new challenges after mastering that level. Usually, mastery takes years of practice in this manner.
The process is like building a rock. First, you’re given the (liquid) molten magma (the learning resource), one spoon at a time. Then, as you build, the final piece becomes bigger and more difficult to climb. And so you are — you become better at handling the spoon and how to mold.
If you want to become the best at what you do, you should learn the role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance.
The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice—practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practise but also to help you learn how to coach yourself. Above all, if you want to achieve top performance as a manager and a leader, you’ve got to forget the folklore about genius that makes many people think they cannot take a scientific approach to developing expertise.Havard Business Review
Read: how to grow as a writer
How I Discovered the Deliberate Practice
Back, back, back story
I was (am) a freelance writer and a student at the time. I was looking for ways to make money writing. So I joined many writing communities, and there, I heard that one way to earn a lot is to become a ghostwriter.
I dived into research and found the two types of ghostwriting. Fiction writing sounds perfect, I’ve already been writing stories. But I know I don’t have the professional skill to write fiction and get paid.
I need to know how to learn a new skill, and I have to do it fast.
Back, Back Story
As a freelance writer, I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing. So I used the Pocket App to save most of my online readings. As it happened, I’d read an article called The Making of Expert on HBR.
The article explained important details about what makes an expert, such as the 10,000 hours rule, starting to learn at a young age, having a tutor or someone who knows a lot about the subject in your family, and living in an environment that enables skill growth.
It was time to go back to it.
At the time, I was a student. Student life — I was living with other students who were not interested in writing. That situation removed some elements of becoming an expert: I was living with people who were not interested, and I wasn’t that young either. (Researchers suggest starting early at a young age for skills that take lots of time. Also, the process is effective when you have a coach; better if they happen to be a family like a parent).
I first searched the internet for books that can break down writing fiction into actionable or workable beats.
I wasn’t looking for a memoir or guide explaining the concept. I wanted to know how to learn a new skill, but not by just observing what already exists or reading fiction.
I was looking for books that would break it down, like having a teacher in a classroom. The author will teach me what to do and then give me exercises to work with.
I would work every day, and at the end of the day, I would have a book worth publishing.
So I went to Quora and Reddit and searched for terms like “book that teaches the craft of writing fiction.”
Drum roll, please!
I am grateful for the poster that recommends this book. The person mentioned three books:
- Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway
- The art of fiction by John Gardner
- Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Leguin
The person specifically said the first book is the most recommended.
I got the book and began to read it.
And what did I find?
Oh goodness, precious!
My Daily Routine
The book was amazing.
It broke everything down bit by bit. You know when you start listening to someone. They passed some lessons to you, and suddenly you feel you know much about the topic and don’t want to go further.
Yeah, that was the feeling.
But I was still trying to use deliberate practice.
So first, I finished the book.
I understood the whole concept of writing good fiction books.
I started working on the concepts.
Every day, the first thing I did when I woke up was read about 20 pages of the book. This solidified some of the concepts I have had about the subject.
For the next hour, I will write my new book, thereby practicing what I learned.
The Hard Part
It was a tough month.
I’m glad I finished it and am still proud of the book I wrote in that period.
I am proud of taking the challenge and the lessons it taught me about life and becoming proficient at something.
I still look back sometimes and remember waking up, picking up my phone, and reading a few pages of the book. I would do push-ups afterward and then start writing on paper. Then much later, I would type it into a Google Doc.
Before I talk about the lessons, I want to explain why I was able to do it despite being a student, having poor electricity, and living in an environment that doesn’t support creative work.
Why I Was Able to Pull It Off
It was a tough month to learn something new with school activities.
My friends and roommates knew I was a freelance writer, and this new fondness for waking up early wasn’t that strange.
I kept writing and working on the project as schoolwork piled up. I got overwhelmed many times and still worked on the book. Why?
If you’re not 100 per cent into it, somebody else who is 100 percent into it will outperform you. And they won’t just outperform you by a little bit—they’ll outperform you by a lot because now we’re operating the domain of ideas, compound interest really applies, and leverage really applies.Naval, Almanac of Naval
I love writing
This is the overall reason. I love the feeling of writing a book and giving it to someone, and when they read it, they would say, oh wow, I enjoyed every bit of it. And it draws me away from myself and reality for the period of reading it.
That would be the best feeling for me — and any fiction author.
Secondly, I know there is a market for me.
I have done some research and know ghostwriters usually have consistent and big projects to handle. As a ghostwriter, getting to write a novel on someone’s behalf is long-term. It can pay you well, depending on how much you charge.
One book can take a month. So while others are pitching and sending proposals mindlessly on Upwork, you have a job taking your time.
I finished the book, edited it, and sent it to a few friends. The ones who are readers enjoyed it and gave me loads of compliments.
The ones who weren’t (fiction) readers didn’t bother.
But I have already gotten what I wanted — the evidence that I could do this.
So next, I went online and started pitching for ghostwriting jobs.
I would have gone into other details about why I didn’t earn more money, but that’s not the point of this post. In summary, being an excellent novelist and selling fiction are two different skills.
The Lessons & How To Use Deliberate Practice To Learn A New Skill
These are the things I learned and the reasons why it’s worth it.
It’s easy to follow your progress.
You can feel it. You can understand the actions that are changing or improving your skill level. For instance, I write things after reading the book and implement the tips. I can see the changes in my writing and how my chapter has improved. So, deliberate practice brings clarity and helps me document how my skill has improved.
It simplifies a skill acquisition and makes it seem straightforward
I still see many comments online complaining about not knowing where to start learning a skill. The answer could be deliberate practice.
For instance, I read how Mozart practiced music and how Benjamin Franklin learned to write by rewriting his favorite magazines by hand. They broke things down, worked on the basics, and then moved to the next. It could be the same for you.
It solidifies the concept of skill or lessons.
The idea of deliberate practice is to work on an activity long enough that it becomes partly automated.
After practicing a small task for a while, the skills become part of you. When you achieve this, you move to the next task and the next until all of the little skills become a whole.
Many books and courses are outlined in a way you can use deliberate practice.
It encourages persistence
I was stuck many times when writing that book, and the only saving grace was my mindset.
My brain had understood the concept of deliberate practice as something I must do every day. I didn’t have to try something new until I was confident in the level I was working on.
I only go to another level of practice when my performance becomes mundane and boring.
So once you understand the concept, you see mistakes as a sign that you haven’t understood a certain level of your learning phase. Plus, you have to show up every day. You see difficulty as unlocking a new skill level.
It gives me the confidence that I can learn anything
Today, I still believe I can become skilled at anything if I am ready to do the work.
Unrelated: I learned something about myself.
The book I wrote is about a girl who ran away from home because she was adopted and was being molested at the age of thirteen.
The plot differs from my life story, but I learned that I care about freedom. I love to travel, do my favorite job, meet new people, try new foods and things, etc.
Freedom. That’s one of my core values.
There are other ways to find your core values. This experience just happens to solidify the idea that I appreciate freedom a lot.
It has also shaped how I handle things like blog writing and marketing. I can use anecdotes and stories as easily as fire passes through dry grasses.
How to Use Deliberate Practice to Master a New Skill You Want to Learn
- Pick a skill you want to improve (marketing, user experience design, or anything you want).
- Find tutors and books that explain the concept.
- This could be anything from bloggers to YouTubers or books or articles.
- First, study and understand the concepts. For instance, read the book’s entire content or watch all the videos under the course.
- Once you have full scope, start studying everything from scratch. This time, implement the lessons and practice deliberately.
- Learn your weakness. Try to get feedback. (This was missing in my own experience. So you should include it).
- Keep going for 6 months or even years (more about this).
What Happened Next After Ghostwriting?
There’s a lot more to writing fiction that sells.
First, I learned that what I wrote was literary fiction. What people are paying for me to ghostwrite is genre fiction.
The competition is too much in the fiction writing (or writing) industry.
To have a big break is like shooting the stars with a pistol and hoping to bring one down.
And yes, ghostwriting is harder when you’re black, Nigerian, and male.
Everyone thinks they can write good fiction books without learning the craft. Trust me, it’s impossible (unless, of course, you have raw talent and your editor is your loving mom who won’t let your talent die).
What about the book you wrote as practice?
I knew someone would still ask. So here’s your answer.
At first, I wanted to edit and publish it. So I sent it to a few publishers, but I didn’t hear back or got rejected.
Eventually, I sent it to a fiction blogger, and it was published and got a few positive reviews. I self-published it eventually but didn’t have money to hire a professional editor or market it. Soooo…
If you have leisure, you can read it here (this is more edited).
Or here (the first edit I did).
Again, I am still proud of the book.
What could I have done better?
I should have tried writing another book and another for myself.
I could have shared my work with the public and learned intrinsic lessons about my work from online readers. Then implement and improve my skills.
But I was satisfied once I started getting paid for ghostwriting fiction.
So, how long does it take to learn a new skill?
The researchers about deliberate practice say it takes years (up 10 years or 10,000 hours), but I didn’t put in the years. I could have worked on my weaknesses (like grammar and writing longer series).
I could have done more.
So there you have it, how to use deliberate practice to master new skills.
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