Lately, I’ve been golfing. Tough game when you face problems with your swing. I slice to the right. It didn’t take me long to realize that every time I take a swing, I’m repeating a bad habit. Improving a golf swing is much harder than one might think and it takes time. But I’m committed to change and improvement. I’m a long way away from becoming even a good golfer, but with the right kind of practice, improvement will come. The same is true with writing or writing practice.

I’m sure many of you have heard of the 10,000 hour rule. In Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 bestseller Outliers, he popularized the “10,000-hours rule,” which posits that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at any competition, from violin to basketball to Halo. It was a powerful idea, based on several studies, and put some evidence behind the “practice makes perfect” argument for any skill.

Really it is deliberate practice that makes people into experts. Whether you work at it for years or a meaningful amount of time, the right kind of practice makes perfect. That is why it is crucial to read a lot of fiction in the genre you write for. This helps you make targeted improvements and become somewhat of a novice at identifying the type of writer you want to become. Still, to become a writer, you must practice writing stories. You can take classes or read articles, but the only way to become a writer is to practice.

When I first started writing, I re-used a lot of common plots and characters I was familiar with in the children’s fiction genre. This is really the first step of targeted practice in writing. In my opinion, it is fine to emulate the masters. This has been my routine for a while. I am to the point now where I can create original characters and plots. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but each book gets me closer to my goal. There are many writing schools and thousands of books or articles on the net, but I prefer to practice.

Another practice that contributes to improvement is having your work critiqued. I am a part of one critique group, but I’m thinking about joining a larger community of writers. SCBWI and other organizations help writers to refine ideas, get valuable feedback, and provide inspiration.

It was through my first critique group that I found a publisher and published my first book, Stink Bomb. Consider joining a group if you are not a part of one.