Today, we start a new feature section “Building Your Grid,” which focuses on how to build what Julia Cameron has called the “creative grid”— that daily regimen of activities that facilitate consistent, reliable creative output.
One of the most basic building blocks for creative success in any discipline is practice. Musicians and athletes are explicitly encouraged to practice their craft regularly, while other creative domains occasionally step away from this encouragement to debate the efficacy of practice vs. inborn talent.
Sherri Fisher recently blogged about some research into expert-level performance by K. Anders Ericsson, professor of psychology at Florida State University, that points to the importance of a particular type of practice regimen—one that Ericsson calls “deliberate practice.”
According to Ericsson, experts engage in deliberate practice by:
- Investing a considerable amount of time in solo rehearsal. Successful concert pianists logged nearly 10,000 hours of solo practice—nearly five times that of the serious amateur pianists that he studied.
- Focusing on a gradual refinement of their performance. Masters expect it to take time to introduce a new technique or tweak a particular element of their style.
- Seeking out regular, immediate feedback. Many experts started their career at the elbow of well-regarded coaches or teachers; what those professionals bring to practice is the ability to design activities for the expert-to-be that are designed “for the sole purpose of effectively improving specific aspects of an individual’s performance,” Ericsson asserts.
- Creating opportunities to organize and utilize key domain-specific concepts and encode them in memory in a way that allows rapid retrieval. Experts don’t just know “more” than non-experts, they know “differently.” Their practice regimens have expanded their storehouse of potential courses of action, and they’re able to assess these options quickly.
Ericsson’s research has enormous import for even casual creative hobbyists. Many artists, at some point, reach a plateau in their work—perhaps they’ve reached the limits of self-taught natural talent, or progress towards artistic goals has slowed to a crawl.
To open up this logjam, look for opportunities to practice specific techniques that are a stretch for you—and find a source of constructive, knowledgeable feedback. Get into the habit of mindful self-evaluation before, during and after each of your projects. Learning to make nuanced distinctions between what works in your project and what doesn’t—and to what degree—is the beginning of a practice routine that can shift you into creative overdrive.