Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, has a new book coming out in August called The Little Book of Talent. He offers 52 tips for improving talent in all areas. Much of the advice he offers is counterintuitive and is very helpful for writers. I highly recommend that you pick it up when it comes out – you won't use everything, but it will be worth the price if you just find a few tips that improve your writing talent.
Below are 7 tips to improve your writing talent, built off of the advice in The Little Book of Talent.
“. . . talent is determined far less by our genes and far more by out actions: specifically, the combination of intensive practice and motivation that produces brain growth.” (Coyle, xiv)
- Engrave the skill of writing on your brain. As a writer, you are sure to have favorite authors and books that you turn to again and again. Commit to spend 15 minutes a day with your favorite author, and copy passages verbatim from their writing. This will help engrave their skill into your brain and the exercise will help you pick up on the nuances of their writing far better than a simple reading would.
- Hard skills first, then soft skills. There are hard skills that require constant perfection like swinging a golf club or math and soft skills that focus on pattern recognition and making smart choices like writing or sensing danger as a police officer. First, know your hard skills as a writer. Read The Elements of Style and other grammar helps, and then focus on the soft skill of writing by practicing consistently.
- Early success means very little. If you feel like you are getting a late start on your writing career, don't worry about it. Early success is a very poor predictor of future success. Remember that writing is a marathon, not a sprint – build on your early successes and your early failures, and keep moving towards the larger goal.
- Stretch yourself. Don't settle into a writing routine that you are comfortable with. Force yourself to write in different genres, styles, and voices. Play outside of your comfort zone. Albert Einstein said, “One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.” Barely achieve something, and you will be closer to your ultimate goals.
- Break it down. Break your writing down into chunks. Instead of thinking about writing an entire book, break it down with an outline. Break each chapter down after that. Make sure that when you sit down to work, you are working on one manageable chunk. Hint: If you get stuck, work on the chunks at random instead of in chronological order. If you have a thorough outline complete, this can help you get past writer’s block quickly.
- The goal is perfection, not practice. Practice often, but don't think that completes your goal. John Wooden, one of the greatest basketball coaches ever, said, “Never mistake mere activity for accomplishment.”
- Practice daily. If you have the choice between writing for 5 minutes a day or an hour once a week, write daily. Your writing skill will improve faster and will be engraved on your brain. It takes about 8 weeks to form a daily habit. If you pick a manageable time like 5 minutes a day and stick with it for 8 weeks, you will accomplish great things in your writing career.
For more information on talent, check out Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. His information on breaking the habit loop is invaluable and worth the price of the book alone.