Justin McLachlan http://www.justinmclachlan.com I Tell Stories. Tue, 22 Jul 2014 21:09:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 5 Reasons Your Dialogue Isn’t Authentic http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1824/writing-authentic-dialogue/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1824/writing-authentic-dialogue/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 16:10:35 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1824 I’ve been known to turn down an audition once I’ve seen the script. It’s not the story, usually I only have the barest sense of what the story is about anyway because I usually just get  a side — selected pages I’ll read for the audition only. What kills it for me is the dialogue. […]]]>

I’ve been known to turn down an audition once I’ve seen the script.

It’s not the story, usually I only have the barest sense of what the story is about anyway because I usually just get  a side — selected pages I’ll read for the audition only. What kills it for me is the dialogue. Sometimes, it’s just soooo bad that I can’t bring myself to put any life into it. Writing authentic dialogue is hard, but it’s key to your story.

Here’s some dialogue issues that’ll make me run from a script. They’re all applicable to novels and other kinds of creative writing, too.

  1. It’s klunky. The characters don’t sound like real human beings. The easiest way to fix this is to read your dialogue aloud. Could you hear yourself saying those words in that order in normal, everyday conversation? If you can’t, rephrase it how you’d say it, and then use that instead.
  2. Names. Everyone addresses (or greets) everyone else by their names. You get home in the evening, see your spouse. Do you say a) “Hi [spouse name]” or b)”Hi” … ? B, right? You know each other. In real life, we use names only with those we’re on less familiar terms with, and even then usually only on first meeting or in the initial greeting of subsequent meetings. So your characters should do the same.
  3. It’s cheesy. See #1 — if you’ve never said it in real life, chances are 99 percent of other people haven’t either. So cut it or rewrite it to sound like an authentic human being reacting authentically to their circumstances.
  4. It leaves nothing out. “This will be the best vacation ever and it couldn’t come at a better time because with the hours you work and having twins this year and my mother moving into the basement while she recovers from heart surgery we’ve not had any time to ourselves and our marriage has just suffered, so so much.” Less is almost always more. Trust the audience to get it.
  5. It really leaves nothing out:

    “Hi.”
    “Hey.”
    “How are you?”
    “I’m fine. You?”
    “Not bad.”
    “Good to hear.”
    “Ready to go move the body?”

    Can you see all the parts of that that maybe could be cut, that don’t belong? Yes — we should strive for authentic, speakable dialogue. But, that doesn’t mean we mimic actual human speech or full conversations. We can leave out the stuff that doesn’t move the narrative, like all the “hi” and “hey” and even “bye” and “see ya.”

What do you think? Any good dialogue tips you’d like to share? Hit me up on Twitter. Also, some more advice on writing dialogue.

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How to Control Your Lighting For Higher Production Value http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1803/film-lighting-control/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1803/film-lighting-control/#comments Fri, 20 Jun 2014 13:54:33 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1803 Your best lighting tool isn't a light.]]>

Your best lighting tool isn’t a light.

No, really. Lights are important, but if all you’ve got room for in the budget is a work light from Home Depot, it doesn’t mean you can’t build a great shot with it.

There’s a trick to it.

sightscene1-11When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to spend some time working with an Emmy-nominated lighting designer in Los Angeles. Each night, we’d light the set for a daily TV program and you know what she spent most of her time doing? Adding scrims to a couple of fresnels we were using as keys. Scrims — in this case metal screens of varying density — modify the output of the light. We had an entire grid at our disposal, tons of practicals built-in to the set and pretty much any fixture you could want, but 90 percent of our time was spent working with a couple fresnels, putting scrims in and pulling them out. Trying this one, trying that one. She was working to control the light so that it spread perfectly across the talent.

Watching her taught me an important lesson about lighting. No matter the source, the real skill and the real art comes from how you control and modify your light. Do it right, and you can make any fixture look like it cost a billion bucks — even the sun. But… trouble is, sometimes all the implements you need, or think you need, to control a light adequately can add up to more than the light itself. That’s where the work light comes in.

How do you make a work light look like a $3000 set of Kino Flos?

Much the same way you would with a more expensive fixture. Remember, it’s not the fixture that matters — it’s how you can control it.

First, you can modify the color temperature to look more like daylight with some color-temperature blue gel from Rosco (though, if you don’t need a sunlight look, you can skip this step). One sheet should do it. Next, you can cut the harshness of the light with some diffusion. This is a really important step, one that will give you a nice, soft blanket of light. I really like #100 and #103 and I wrap it around a big frame that I can stick in a c-stand. But no worries if you don’t have a c-stand or can’t afford a frame — pick up a $5 frosty shower curtain liner. Hang it off a curtain rod and hand it to a friend to hold in front of the light. You’ll get much the same effect as that more expensive diffusion.* Really though — as soon as you can afford an entire roll of diffusion gel, spring for it. Diffusion is your best friend. I still use it even on already soft sources like Kino Flos or LEDs.

Can’t get your hands on any diffusion? None at all? Not even that shower curtain liner? Then bounce your light. Bounce it off the ceiling or a piece of muslin or even a bed sheet. Sometimes, I bounce a light off muslin or another surface and then still pass it through diffusion. It’s all about control and modification to get the lighting look you need.

Chris Stinson

Work lights are pretty big sources, so spill might be a problem. You can opt again for a professional flag to control it or, if those aren’t in the budget, some Duvetyne cleverly hung (or held) just where you need it will also block light. Duvetyne has the added bonus of being safer to use with hot sources. It’s still not cheap, though, so one of my favorite tricks is black foam core. It works super-well and is super-cheap. I have a stock of varying sizes in my closet. When you do have some money to spend, I’d grab a couple 4′ x 8′ sheets that you can get at art stores. Tape two together with some gaffer’s tape and you’ve got a v-flat that will pretty much stand on its own.

Got any favorite lighting control tricks? Share them with me on Twitter @justinmclachlan.

*I need to point out that when using materials to modify lights, you always, always have to consider the fire risk. While professional gels can withstand very high temperatures, they’ll still melt if they get too hot. The same goes for something like a shower curtain. Keep it a safe distance from your light source.

 

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34 More Scifi and Fantasy Writing Prompts http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1716/scifi-and-fantasy-writing-prompts/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1716/scifi-and-fantasy-writing-prompts/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 13:20:10 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1716 Who doesn’t love a great writing prompt? Here are 34 more scifi and fantasy writing prompts, licensed, as usual, under Creative Commons and culled from ideas in my notebooks, stuff floating around in my head, tidbits from others stories or shows, and so on. Use them as you see fit! Sitting silent and watching for […]]]>

Who doesn’t love a great writing prompt?

Here are 34 more scifi and fantasy writing prompts, licensed, as usual, under Creative Commons and culled from ideas in my notebooks, stuff floating around in my head, tidbits from others stories or shows, and so on.

Use them as you see fit!

  1. Sitting silent and watching for centuries, a gargoyle plots its coming escape into the real world.
  2. As if the  abduction wasn’t bad enough, a man finds himself stranded on a new planet when the aliens who took him forget where he came from.
  3. “He was angry, so angry that even his own power scared him.”
  4. You’re all alone on a deserted island, until a shipwreck brings a new visitor — someone who claims he can get you home, but for a high price.
  5. A video game designer decides he doesn’t like his real life, so he builds a game he can live in.
  6. “My last day on earth wasn’t supposed to be like this…”
  7. One simple scientific discovery from a small team in the UK has a significant side effect — the world no longer needs money.
  8. A down-and-out inventor on the verge of bankruptcy builds a machine that can control the weather.
  9. A therapist’s newest patient turns out to not be joking when he says he’s a superhero.
  10. After visiting the dentist, a man finds he got more than a filling implanted in his tooth when he starts picking up radio signals.
  11. “They may have been small, but together they knew they could face the world.”
  12. After a particularly restful nap, a man awakes on a tiny boat in the middle of the ocean.
  13. The crew of Earth’s first deep space vessel discover an area of space where the normal laws of physics don’t apply.
  14. The experiment worked! But now there are five of you.
  15. “Trust me, I really can fly.”
  16. Tilling the fields one day, a lonely farmer hatches a plan for an alien hoax that he thinks will bring him fame and fortune — instead it brings him real aliens.
  17. A new mom discovers that her baby has superpowers, namely — telekinesis.
  18. After buying a used camera on eBay, a photographer sees the same man’s face in every one of her photographs.
  19. Late one night, an infomercial host has a message for you — and just you.
  20. You wake in the hospital after a serious injury that reveals that your body is a little more than meets the eye — basically, you’re an android.
  21. A shirtless man sits beside you on a bench. He says he’s Jesus.
  22. Heading out for the morning paper, you notice something strange in your front yard: a freshly dug grave with a wooden coffin inside.
  23. A team of scientists is dispatched to a small Oklahoma town after a tornado strikes the same place at the same time, five days in a row.
  24. Your new roommate turns out to be a vampire, but one you decide to keep around for protection.
  25. After his car is struck by lightning, a man discovers that he can control electricity.
  26. Digging through an old box in your attic, you come across a calendar from Colonial times that suggests the world will end in three days.
  27. A scientists discovers that humans are not the only species with a legitimate claim to planet Earth.
  28. A hacker creates a virtual currency that quickly becomes the dominant system of money on the entire planet.
  29. Two people wake up in bed together, but in a room in a house neither recognizes nor with any knowledge of what happened the night before.
  30. Out on a walk with your dog, you meet a man who says he has a message — from your future self.
  31. Slowly, a man comes to the realization that his world and everything he knows is just the inside of a snow globe.
  32. On a long flight home, you sit next to a women who says she can tell you your future, but only if you’ll do this one little thing for her first.
  33. You are stranded on a desert island, with a magical rock that will grant two wishes — but the wishes will only affect people off the island.
  34. A man wakes to find himself trapped in a Holodeck-like virtual reality simulator. The thing is, he’s not sure he wants to leave.

Need even more ideas? I’ve got you covered. Here are 30 Scifi Writing Prompts, 25 Fantasy Writing Prompts, and for those of you in the holiday spirit, 25 Scifi and Fantasy Holiday Writing Prompts

Creative Commons License
34 More Scifi and Fantasy Writing Prompts by Justin McLachlan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Use Shallow Depth of Field For a Cinematic Look http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1699/use-shallow-depth-field-cinematic-look/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1699/use-shallow-depth-field-cinematic-look/#comments Thu, 12 Jun 2014 15:25:58 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1699 Are you films missing something?]]>

Ever wonder why your video just doesn’t have the same look and feel that you’re used to on the big screen? It might be because you’re not manipulating the depth of field.

Every lens focuses at a single point. There’s an area in front of and behind that point that’s “acceptably sharp” — not perfect focus, but in focus enough. That’s the depth of field. A deep depth of field gives you a wide area of acceptable focus (great for landscapes, for example), a shallow depth of field gives you a narrower area of acceptable focus, and incidentally, those nice blurry backgrounds we associate with a cinematic look.

There are a couple of ways to get a shallow depth of field, but first let’s be clear — just because you can shoot an image with a shallow depth of field, doesn’t mean you should. It’s great for closeups, for example, but not all of them. Depending on your story and what you’re trying to achieve, a deeper depth of field might be more appropriate. But that’s a topic for another article.

2 Ways to Achieve Shallow Depth of Field

Again, shallow depth of field isn’t the only way to get a cinematic look (nor should it be your only consideration), but it’s a good start.

  1. Open the aperture. Changing the size and shape of the aperture changes how the light is focused (or more accurately, the convergence of the light), narrowing or broadening the range where your image will be acceptably sharp. The wider your aperture, the more narrow this range becomes, giving you a nice, blurry background. Make sense? Here’s a video that explains depth of field pretty well.
  2. Use a longer lens. Longer lenses have narrower focal lengths, so it’s easier to get a blurred background just like you do with a wider aperture. Though you can get the same effect with a shorter lens by moving your camera closer to the subject, a longer lens will compress the 3D space of your image (bring the background closer) so the shallow depth of field will be more noticeable.*
Chris Stinson & Justin McLachlan on the set of Roommates.

This image, from my short film Roommates, has a shallow depth of field. The foreground actor is in focus, while the background actor isn’t.

There’s a big caveat here. Sensor size affects depth of field. This was largely a non-issue in the past, as everyone — especially still photographers — was shooting on pretty much the same size film. But digital sensors are different sizes. The Black Magic Cinema Camera is slightly larger than a Super 16mm and my Nikon D7000 is an APS-C sensor (between Super 35mm and a full-frame still). Smaller sensors, in general, will give you a deeper depth of field and make it a little more difficult to get a blurry background. My guess, however, is that the difference is so negligible you won’t really notice.

*Mathematically the DOF is the same for any given lens at a certain aperture when the images are cropped to keep the subject the same size, but again — without the compression of a longer lens, this isn’t as noticeable and really, not as applicable to film as it is to still photography.

 

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To Outline or To Not… Just Don’t Outline http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1692/no-creative-writing-outline/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1692/no-creative-writing-outline/#comments Thu, 12 Jun 2014 13:24:19 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1692 Trying to outline your novel or screenplay? Maybe you shouldn't. In fact, stop. No outline! Bad outline! Here's why.]]>

I don’t outline. Go ahead, gasp, roll your eyes, smirk. Whatever. You don’t know me.

Seriously, though. My method is fairly organic. Sometimes I have an ending in mind, or a few scenes I want to fit in somewhere — but overall I tend to just sit down, write and explore. If my preconceived ideas aren’t working, they’re not working. I don’t get hung up on it, I just let the story go where it goes, shaped by what Steven James, author of Story Trumps Structure, calls narrative forces.

I know I’m not going to settle any outline or not debates here, but maybe for a minute you could consider that the only reason you cling to an outline is that no one has taught you another way?* Or at least told you that it’s okay to write another way? We’ve all had outlines beaten into us from grade school to college, and while they can help organize thoughts in non-fiction, what good do they do for fiction?

Think of it this way. If you’ve spent all this time on an outline for your screenplay or novel, you’re going to be really, really interested in making sure that work isn’t wasted and that your story follows that outline — even if it means sacrificing the story in the process. I can usually tell when a writer has followed an outline, because the logical consistency of the story sometimes suffers. Characters don’t always react believably because the writer is so focused on getting from point-to-point on the outline, that they’re not listening to where the story is saying it should go.

Then there’s a whole other level of outliners — those who’ve found some great book or workshop or class with an outline structure that tells you to Break Into Two at page 23 if your screenplay is 120 pages (but page 12 if it’s only 60 pages, etc.) or make sure the All is Lost Moment comes right at the end of Act Two. If you want formulaic fiction devoid of life and art, then, well, maybe you should stop reading. While it’s great to study the structure of successful stories, there’s nothing that says your story has to copy the same structure to be successful.

The biggest objection I hear to ditching outlines is actually a pretty good one, at least at first. What happens when you don’t know what comes next? Then, you just don’t know. That’s a good thing. Here’s Steven James:

When you’re working your way between drafts without any specific plan of what will come next, it doesn’t mean you’ve reached a dead end or have writer’s block. It doesn’t mean you’ve stalled out. It means your mind is working in ways you don’t even notice to solve the problems you might not even be able to articulate.

Good art sometimes needs a lot of incubation. Don’t fear it, embrace it.

So, what about you? Ready to stop planning and just start writing? Still haven’t convinced you, huh? Here’s the perfect time to give it a try: NaNoWriMo. While I think your current project could probably benefit from more of an organic process, hell I believe every project could benefit from more of an organic process, a no-pressure situation like that might be the perfect time to test the outline-less waters. They’re quite nice.

*And, while I’m sure this isn’t you, I know a lot of really great outliners who’ve never written a damn word of their stories because the outline just isn’t finished. Really? For god’s sake ditch the outline and just start writing.

 

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25 Things About Writing http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1670/25-things-writing/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1670/25-things-writing/#comments Tue, 10 Jun 2014 14:48:02 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1670 "Trying to edit while writing is like trying to chop down a tree while you're climbing it."]]>
  1. Writing and having written aren’t the same thing — be sure you want both, because the former is a lot of work.
  2. Real writing is actually a lot of rewriting.
  3. Your friends won’t be as impressed the second time around. Don’t let it stop you.
  4. Grammar, punctuation, spelling — it’s okay if all these things come last.
  5. First drafts universally suck.
  6. Avoid the advice of those who tell you otherwise of #5.
  7. Stopping early helps you to start early the next day.
  8. Trying to edit while writing is like trying to chop down a tree while you’re climbing it.
  9. Sometimes it’s good to take a break.
  10. There are no rules to how, when or where you write, as long as you write.
  11. You’ll never catch a trend — write what you want.
  12. Writing can be lonely. Very, very lonely.
  13. Inspiration will never strike when you need it to. Just write. Do the work.
  14. Complex construction doesn’t equal complex though. Simplify.
  15. Published ≠ success.
  16. Why would you want to write only what you know? Discover something new instead.
  17. The best writers are usually voracious readers.
  18. And the best of the best read outside their preferred genres.
  19. You can, most definitely, split an infinitive. In other words, you may have a lot of bad advice and rules to unlearn.
  20. Deliberate practice will make you better.
  21. People who act like writing is easy probably aren’t really writers.
  22. Don’t compare yourself to writers.
  23. Ideas are everywhere, yes — but that doesn’t make them any less elusive.
  24. You’re not the next Hemingway or whoever it is you admire, so don’t try to be. Just be you. You’re great.
  25. Deadlines. Goals. Set them, and stick to them.
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25 Things About Creating Stories http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1658/25-things-creating-stories/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1658/25-things-creating-stories/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 21:15:29 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1658 Humans are natural born storytellers, right? ]]>

Story is everything.

Because of that, here are 25 thoughts on creating stories, in no particular order. Though, I think #25 is well placed at the end.

  1. A lot of things have beginnings, middles and ends — but that doesn’t make them stories.
  2. True stories have two parts: first something bad happens, second something bad is fixed (or a fix is at least attempted)
  3. Plot-driven and character-driven stories don’t really exist; all stories are conflict/tension driven.
  4. Suspense, tension, conflict — these things shouldn’t be limited to specific genres.
  5. Asking what happens next is probably the wrong question.
  6. Asking what is my character’s goal (or what does my character want) is probably a better question.
  7. Better yet: what can go wrong now?
  8. Ticking clocks give your story a deadline and a destination. Also, tension. Can’t ask for much more.
  9. Give your characters some story-level goals, i.e., decide what it is they want, have them go after it, and the plot will almost fill itself in.
  10. Storytelling is a timeless human instinct — trust and embrace your natural ability.
  11. Tell your stories like you’re talking to just one person — an audience of one is the right number.
  12. Start with the end, and you’ll stay on track.
  13. Most stories start too early.
  14. Many stories end too late.
  15. Stakes are essential. Usually the higher the better.
  16. In real life, we avoid conflict because it sucks. In your stories, you must embrace, chase it even.
  17. Things can always get worse — we’ll probably enjoy reading that more anyway.
  18. Not all stories have to have happy endings, neat little bows are for packages.
  19. A good story doesn’t preach or moralize — it connects and resonates.
  20. Good stories leave out the unimportant parts.
  21. You have more stories to tell than you realize. Trust. Yourself.
  22. Complex isn’t necessarily better. Some of the most powerful stories are pretty simple.
  23. Trying for theme will kill a story — theme comes last.
  24. Plot is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.
  25. And then? Keep asking until you figure it out.
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Tricorder: 4 iPhone Apps That Make It So http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1646/iphone-star-trek-tricorder/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1646/iphone-star-trek-tricorder/#comments Wed, 04 Jun 2014 17:34:13 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1646 Why wait? The Tricorder is here, now. No... seriously. It is.]]>

In Treknology, I devoted an entire chapter — the first chapter — to how Star Trek’s tricorder is here, now, in most of our hands.

Some of you were skeptical. Very. But seriously, I was right. Here’s more proof.

Scio Molecular Scanner

Scio

Scio is a handheld optical scanner that can read the molecular structure of materials — like food, plants, medicines. It also looks a lot like Dr. Crusher’s pop-out scanner on her medical tricorder. You can preorder now.

Kinsa

Kinsa

Kinsa is a smart-phone enabled thermometer that will crowdsource user’s data to give you more details about what’s going on in your area — say, if there’s a bug going around your child’s school. Plus it’s kind of fun to use.

Tile

Tile

Never lose your keys again. Tile uses your phone’s Bluetooth connection to find tagged objects. It’s also smart. The tags can talk to other, so even if your phone isn’t in range, if another Tile user is, you can get a location.

Scanadu Scout

Scanadu Scout

Did I miss any? Let me know.

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Anything Can Be http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1626/anything-can-be-shel-silverstein/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1626/anything-can-be-shel-silverstein/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 08:30:30 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1626 Listen to all the naysayers, says Shel Silverstein — but then, listen closer to the real truth about impossible and possible.]]>

One of my favorite books is Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein.

One of my teachers in elementary school used to pick a few of his poems to read to us each day — some of my strongest memories from school, let me tell you. (Better: what does that tell you about school?).

Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel SilversteinI picked up a new copy recently and came across a poem I’m not sure I ever heard, but I love it.  Listen to the Mustn’ts. New favorite.

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,

Listen to the DON’TS

Listen to the SHOULDN’TS

The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS

Listen to the NEVER HAVES

Then listen close to me—

ANYTHING can be.

It reminds me of a quote from Arthur C. Clarke that I came across while writing Treknology. My theme for that book was exactly the same as Silverstein’s poem: anything can be. I’ll sum it up for you — basically, any time you hear someone say that’s not possible, it’s a pretty good indication that it is, and will be.

Just keep trying.

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The Art of Deliberate Practice http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1620/art-deliberate-practice/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1620/art-deliberate-practice/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 13:32:12 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1620 Practice won't make you perfect, but deliberate practice just might. Find out more.]]>

Practice makes… supposedly it makes perfect. Jury is still out, if you ask me.

There’s a bit of conventional wisdom floating around that it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill, be it writing or drawing or running or whatever (all three things I’ve been practicing, including the latest, drawing, which you see above).

New research has put a damper on that, though. In Top Dog, Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman say, “practicing the piano may develop finger dexterity, but that alone won’t remedy the sick twisting feeling in your stomach the first time you are in front of an audience.”

True. It turns out that amateurs and seasoned pros experience the same stress responses when faced with critical performance, like at a recital or a dance competition. In those situations, how you handle stress is as important as how much you’ve practiced.

The thing is, the more you’ve practiced, in my experience, the more equipped you are to handle stress because you know your automatic processes will take over — your mastery of the skill is so ingrained it’s harder for you to screw it up than it is to not do it correctly.

There’s a catch though, and it brings us back to that 10,000 hours — not just any 10,000 hours will do.

Your practice has to be deliberate. Running a mile every day for 10 years will probably not prepare you well for a marathon. Writing in spurts every couple weeks is not going to give you the fortitude you need to see a novel through to completion.

Simply: if you want to become and expert, you have to practice like an expert. You need deliberate practice.

Deliberate Practice = Expert Level Practice

Those sketches above are from an amazing drawing course by Riven Phoenix I found, and it’s so affordable I’m almost afraid to share it. This course could be priced at 100x what Riven is charging for it and still be worth it.

I latched on to it because I realized sketching now and then from drawing books or even the occasional anatomy book wasn’t cutting it. I wasn’t getting any better at figure drawing (I may have got worse). There was no understanding, my practice was amateur-level and it was producing amateur results.

Riven’s course, though, is expert level practice, it’s deliberate practice — everything he has us do, from drawing chins to shoulder blades, has a point to make. It lays a foundation for what’s to come. It’s highly structured, with a goal at getting better. The best part is that it started at my skill level, which was nil.

What’s deliberate, expert level writing practice? Writing every day. Every day. I mean it. There are no exceptions. You need that repetition. Then, share what you’ve written and get feedback. You need that, too.

Be sure to aim for your skill level when you start your practice. Beginning runners don’t start training for marathons, they train for 3ks and 5ks. Not ready for short stories? Start with blog posts. I love NaNoWriMo because it helps you to understand what it’s like to hit a daily word count, but it might not be right for you (yet) if you’ve never written more than the 100-word screed on tumblr now and then.

What writing skills I have been forged in the fires of being a beat reporter at a daily newspaper. I truly hated that job, but I don’t think I would’ve traded the expert-level practice it gave me. Do writing exercises. I’ve got tons of prompts, if you need them.

If you want to delve deeper into what deliberate practice means, have a look at this article at Expert Enough.

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