Want to be a better writer? A better anything-er? Just do it

When 81-year-old Pablo Casals, who was the world’s foremost cellist, was asked whey he continued to practice several hours a day, he answered: “Because I think I am making progress.”

Between the ages of eight and twenty-two, ee cummings wrote a poem a day.

April taps out Larry BJJ Kung fuIn September, my kung fu school began offering Brazilian jiujitsu classes four times a week. You'll find me in nearly every one of them. Before that, grappling was only offered on Sundays, or for parts of kung fu classes.

I used to be creeped out by the idea of grappling. It seemed to rape-y, or ob-gyn-y. I mean, do you really expect me to believe that one of the better positions I can be in is on my back with my legs wrapped around someone? No thanks.

But then I started doing it more, and realized I actually liked it. It is the most intense exercise I have ever done ever. In the last month, I've seen two guys who were way younger than me and who wrestled in high school try out the class, and both ended up half way through class lying flat on their backs on the mat, spent.

And even though you make a lot of physical contact, jiujitsu is impersonal. The person's other body is just an obstacle that you have to deal with. It's only personal in that you like and respect your partner and would not deliberately injure them.

Getting better every day
Today several of my grappling partners made a point of telling me how much better I had gotten at jujitsu.

How did I get better? Practice. Making a lot of mistakes. Trying new things, only some of which worked. But mostly just by showing up.

If you do something a lot, even if only a small percentage of it is excellent, a small percentage of a lot is more than a small percentage of not very much.

Malcolm Gladwell famously said that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to make someone an expert.

Then a study said no, deliberate practice doesn't account for all of it.  They said practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games and 21% for music.  I think writing would be in there. Still one-fifth to one-fourth is a big chunk.

And I am a lot better writer working on my 27th book than I was on my first. I know what I'm doing. I feel it in my bones.

Just like I am beginning to with grappling.

I'm also learning to try new things.  Can I get a joint lock in this position? I don't know, but it's worth a try.  Instead of thinking about it, I try to just do it.

I'm trying to be more like that with my writing too. To turn off my internal editor and let the words flow.  I really like Writeordie.com for making it impossible to be critical and forcing me to write (I'll often set it for 500 words in 15 minutes).

Just do it
So if there's something you want to do and be good at, I think the old Nike slogan says it best:

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I have carried this keychain or its brother since Nike introduced the slogan (and have backups bought off ebay stashed for when this one breaks).

I would modify it to:  JUST DO IT A LOT

So if you want to be a better poet, write four poems a week.  Or a poem a day. Lots of photographers do 365 projects, ie, they take a photo every day.  Are all those photos great? I'm sure not, but I'm also sure they end up with way more great photos than they would have otherwise. 
I read once that a dancer who doesn't dance for 40 days is no longer a dancer. Guess it's the same with anything.
Side note: Love the new webpage design!