Are You an Expert? How Writing Changes Our Brain

by Jami Gold on August 19, 2014

in Writing Stuff

Fingers on a piano with text: What Makes an Expert?

An interesting article recently discussed research on the brains of writers. Specifically, the research studied what sections of the brain “lit up” in an fMRI (functional MRI) scan during various phases of writing, like brainstorming and drafting.

One important finding seemed to match research in other areas, namely that experienced people think differently from those just learning the ropes. Being an expert isn’t just about knowing more.

What Is an Expert?

An expert knows more than novices obviously, but they do more than simply apply the information they know. They also change their thought processes. They’re able to skip whole steps of thinking about their task (on a conscious level) so they work more efficiently.

This lack of conscious effort makes their process look so natural that we might think they have a special talent. However, study after study has revealed that these experts have no greater speed, intelligence, memory, etc. Instead, they’d gained their efficiency through extensive practice.

The doctor behind the research on writers’ brains had previously studied other creative types, like musicians and singers, and I’ve heard of similar studies involving chess players and scientists. In other words, those willing to put in the practice time can become an expert. *smile*

What Efficiency Looks Like: Chess Masters

In the studies of chess masters, the differences between experts and novices came down to their experiences—but not experiences regarding potential moves. Rather, the experts’ experiences helped them recognize complex patterns.

These patterns allow chess masters to “simply know” that certain board configurations should be played a certain way. Without that recognition, a chess novice has to take the time to think through potential moves on each turn. Furthermore, those patterns make it easier for chess masters to learn new information, as they’re not starting from scratch each time.

Our brains love to be efficient (some might say lazy), and pattern recognition is a huge part of most tasks. Memorizing 50 random numbers is near impossible. Memorizing a 50-number pattern (2, 4, 6, 8…) is easy. One takes up 50 “bits” of our memory while the other takes up one “bit”—that’s efficiency.

With practice, typing progresses from hunt-and-peck methods to automatic “muscle memory” movements. The same conscious-concentration-to-automatic-processes happens for mental tasks as well.

One Way Writers’ Brains Change with Practice

In the study from the article, the brains of novice writers focused on “visual processing” during a brainstorming session—such as what we might expect if we were visualizing a scene. In contrast, the brains of experienced writers also activated speech centers during brainstorming—as though they were not only picturing a scene but also internally narrating, or starting the process of putting the scene into words.

I suspect this change occurs as more of the writing process moves to the automatic or subconscious level. Experienced writers who have developed their voice have patterns of sentence construction, vocabulary choices, or voice-specific concepts to draw from when translating ideas into words. Thus, the words bubble up without effort as our brain supplies the internal narration to go with the scene.

(Note: That doesn’t mean the automatic words will be great. We might, in fact, use too many pet phrases during drafting, but no one ever said our rough draft would be our best draft. *smile*)

Brainstorming and Drafting as a Layered Process

On Facebook, Jennifer Holm started a conversation about the article, and several of us shared our experiences:

Jennifer Holm: “I still see the scene in my head as well, but there’s a layer of the written word, and I hear the words as well. It’s kind of a funky, weird experience, but I like it.”

Sheabody Butter: “I let my subconscious mind do all the thinking, so that when I write, I’m just going through the motion of typing.”

Jami Gold (me): “I used to just see the movie in my head, but now I think of the words themselves too.”

April Bradley: “It’s a layered thing for me. The voice and words are definitely there but so are the scenes. Visually, it’s like building and tearing down the world as you inhabit it. It’s fluid and non-intrusive to an on-going narrative.”

Those all sound fairly alike. Experienced writers think in layers of scenes and words. I sometimes joke that I know when I’m ready to start writing a new story because I can’t hold all the half-drafted scenes in my head anymore. *smile*

The experiences of those who fast draft (including me) usually point to fast drafting as a good way to force our subconscious to take over. We can get into a writing zone where we’re listening only to that internal narration and not to our conscious thoughts of what we think should go on the page. Once we reach this stage, it’s easy to understand why the ancients believed in the voice of a muse, as for some writers, it can literally feel like taking dictation.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed one style of typo increasing with my internal narration method. Now that I draft by listening to an internal voice (rather than just looking around a scene in my head), I’m more often mis-typing “sound-alike” words: shoe, threw, etc. I usually realize the mistake right away, but apparently I don’t listen to myself very well. *snicker*

Other Patterns Writers Might Recognize

In a way, the struggles we sometimes face when starting a new story might come down to needing to wait for patterns to develop. If we don’t know our characters very well, we might have to figure out what they’d do rather than just know based on their previous behavior.

Some of us might experiment with different drafting techniques until one feels like it could become automatic. For me, I can write by the seat of my pants because I’ve internalized patterns of story structure. I recognize what should happen in a story and when, and I know the elements that create an arc.

Our knowledge and experience might combine to form patterns of reasoning, allowing us to see ways of twisting a story to force a plot event, methods of showing characters’ vulnerabilities, or approaches for adding layers. We might evaluate patterns for knowing how to tie subplots to our main plot or identifying the best scene for kicking off our story. Or maybe we analyze patterns during editing for tightening our writing, eliminating passive phrases, or reducing word count.

Will we be perfect and never stumble over these elements again? Of course not. But the more practice we have with writing, the more likely our brain will recognize those patterns. At that point, our instincts or subconscious will often take over, handling the details behind the curtain.

For example, my brain recognizes patterns of dangling modifiers and other grammar no-no’s, so I tend not to write them, even in a rough draft. Others might automatically avoid “telling” sentences or pointless scenes. Any amount of writing craft our brain can handle without conscious attention leaves more brainpower to focus on what really matters: telling good stories. *smile*

Have you heard of any of these “expert studies” before? Has your focus or methods for writing changed with experience? What elements of writing have become automatic for you? Does that cause any problems (more pet phrases, typos, etc.)? What patterns do you think writers can recognize with practice?

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34 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee August 19, 2014 at 8:43 am

Experience is certainly where my HTML and CSS expertise comes from. I can look at a glitching website and guess what needs repair because I’ve made all the mistakes. More than once. Inner box wider than a larger one? Positioning conflicts? Omission of a semicolon and/or closing bracket? Accidental deletion of the closing HTML tag? Have done it, have seen the results, and therefore can recognize what’s likely going on when I see it elsewhere.

Back before I’d ever tried to read GRRM, two friends (independently, but in the same month) asked me to read A Game of Thrones, because they wanted my opinion.

One started trying to describe something that seemed to bother her about them, and from what she was saying and how she phrased it, I asked, “The characters seem to act OOC, more for plot reasons than for their own reasons?”

“Yes! That’s it!” she answered. And then she was all bewildered about how I figured out what she was trying to say, and I haven’t even read the books. As I pointed out then, I just happen to have a lot of experience connecting impressions at different levels to their core problems.

Even as a writer, I’m getting faster at identifying the differences among “I need to sit down and muscle through this” writer’s block, and “I’m afraid of finishing this” writer’s block, and “I screwed something up” writer’s block. I look forward to the day when that transition—from block to tackling it—is more automatic.

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Jami Gold August 19, 2014 at 9:18 am

Hi Carradee,

“I can … guess what needs repair because I’ve made all the mistakes.”

Ha! I love it. And can relate, as that applies to many activities and I’ve made many mistakes as well. 😀

Ooo, great example of recognizing the different styles of writer’s block. Yes, the faster we recognize it, the faster we can overcome it and get back to work. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your insights and for the comment!

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Tamara LeBlanc August 19, 2014 at 9:33 am

Hi there!
I haven’t heard of these ‘expert studies’ before, but I love the idea. I also agree with the layered writer aspect. I feel like I’m layered now, after writing so long and attending classes and conferences, submitting, getting rejected, and being given reasons for those rejections.
When I first started reading this post I worried, however, that I’m not practiced enough to achieve expert status, but when I read further I realized I’m under that umbrella at the very least.
I just need more practice…write, write, write 🙂
Have a great afternoon,
Tamara

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Jami Gold August 19, 2014 at 9:40 am

Hi Tamara,

Yes, I’ve followed these brain studies for years (brain function is so interesting to me 🙂 ), and I’d read a paper about the chess master research before, so I loved hearing about the discoveries for writers. We’re each going to have different experiences, so the patterns we learn will probably be unique. My first story was way too long, so I had to learn patterns for editing and tightening that another writer who writes bare wouldn’t need to learn at all.

In other words, we’re each going to become an expert in a different way, so we don’t need to compare our expertise to anyone else’s. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Deborah Makarios August 22, 2014 at 11:17 pm

I’m under the umbrella too! Although I still get drips down my neck sometimes 🙂

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Jami Gold August 22, 2014 at 11:42 pm

Hi Deborah,

LOL! I think we all get those chilly drips sometimes. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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Julie Musil August 19, 2014 at 12:24 pm

This is fascinating! I must admit, I do know much more now than I did a few years ago. Even when I’m writing a first draft, I’m able to avoid some of my earlier mistakes–info dumping etc. Or I can at least recognize them and put notes to myself in parentheses. Like (this sucks. rewrite in draft 2)

Yes, I write notes to myself in draft 1. What a weirdo!

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Rachelle Ayala (@AyalaRachelle) August 19, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Julie, you’re not weird at all, or if you are, so am I. I also write notes to myself during the first draft. I know if I’m rushing, or not filling in the emotions, but I’m writing too fast to fix them because I want to the the story written. Once that’s finished I go back to all the problem areas and take my time to make things clearer, or delete something off tangent, or fill in foreshadowing.

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Jami Gold August 19, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Hi Rachelle,

I have such a hard time seeing issues once the words are “on paper” that I should really try doing this. 😉 Thanks for sharing your experience with it!

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Jami Gold August 19, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Hi Julie,

LOL! What a great idea. 🙂 I don’t think it’s weird at all.

Like you, I’m more likely to recognize issues right away now, so that sounds like a good way to keep momentum going but not lose the issue in the overall manuscript. Thanks for sharing!

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Carradee August 19, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Agreed that you aren’t weird. I’m an edit/revise-as-I-go type of writer, and I’ll still have details or things or spots where I leave notes to myself, because I judge it more efficient to worry about later.

A tip, though: Put notes in square brackets [ ]. They are so rarely used in fiction that it’s easy to find your notes that way. 😀

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Jami Gold August 20, 2014 at 8:27 am

Hi Carradee,

Good tip! I was wondering about that. 🙂

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Carradee August 22, 2014 at 10:15 am

I find it particularly useful for side details that ultimately have to be accurate to the setting but that don’t really influence the story. For instance, a short story I just released features a mute MC. In one scene, another character had to harvest something else that would be 1. in season at the same time as summer squash, 2. near a particular garden, 3. good for hardiness zone 6. I wanted it to be a tree, but a bush would’ve been fine.

That’s the kind of detail that I’d jot in a note and worry about looking up later, once I stopped hitting a roll on the writing. 🙂

P.S. I ended up picking birch.

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Jami Gold August 22, 2014 at 10:22 am

Hi Carradee,

Yep, that makes sense. I think I haven’t tried that trick yet because my pantsing means that even the smallest detail might affect the story. At least, that’s what I tell myself. 😉

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Carradee August 22, 2014 at 11:32 am

Ah, but that’s why you just leave the note there until you’re at a break in the writing flow. If the detail will affect the story, writer’s block will likely hit. 😉

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Jami Gold August 22, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Hi Carradee,

Yep, for me, a lot of these details seem like they’d affect things, so I feel compelled to do the research Right. Now. LOL! As you said, I give in to that compulsion, or else writer’s block might hold me back.

Then again, I’m one of those who can’t just move forward from a typo either. I have to go back and fix it immediately. (One of the many reasons Write Or Die isn’t a good fit for me. 🙂 ) So I might just be an extreme linear writer. *shrug* But I’ll definitely keep that tip in mind in case I come across a detail that really doesn’t matter. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Marcy Kennedy August 19, 2014 at 12:56 pm

I think this also explains why many people who are excellent at something can’t teach others how to do it. Their brains excel so much at skipping steps that they don’t even realize other people can’t make those leaps. Teachers have to be able to set aside what they know and try to look at what they’re teaching from the perspective of someone who is new to it. Doing that isn’t a skill every has or can master.

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Jami Gold August 19, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Hi Marcy,

Yes! Teaching is the ability to see these steps and be able to explain them. That skill doesn’t always match with expertise. Great point–thanks for sharing! 🙂

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Sharla Rae August 19, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Many problems I found in the day’s writing get solved in that short twilight time before sleep when the subconscious relaxes. I keep post a notes on the bedside table for this reason. Now that’s weird.

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Jami Gold August 19, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Hi Sharla,

Hardly! 😉 I’ve been known to tell my brain to figure out something as I’m going to bed, hoping my subconscious will supply the answer in the morning. 😀 And I have a light-up pen so I can see what I’m writing on my notepad in the middle of the night. LOL! Thanks for sharing!

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Serena Yung August 19, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Lol “This is Your Brain on Writing”—nice reference to the This is Your Brain on Music book. FOR ONCE, a reference that I got! Anyway….

Oh yeah, I remember the studies about the chess masters, and yup they remember meaningful (not arbitrary) patterns that help them become experts at chess. 😀

Visual-processing versus verbal-processing? I’m a bit confused when thinking about how I do this during “brainstorming”, because I do visualize scenes, I don’t start the verbal narration, I think, but the DIALOGUE comes out automatically. Um…does automatic dialogue count as verbal-processing? ^_^” However, I’ve only been doing brainstorming for my Chinese novel recently, so it might be harder for me to have a clear narrative voice with a second language that I have so little experience in, haha. But even for my English story brainstorming, IF I REMEMBER CORRECTLY, I also visualize the scenes, don’t start narrating verbally, but again the dialogues come out by themselves even while I’m brainstorming. The dialogue automaticity can be so ridiculous that I would think I was brainstorming, but it turns out I’m already writing the actual scene because the line by line dialogue took over…(Or my characters’ voices took over. XD) Erm, so maybe I don’t have an internalized narrative voice, but I have very internalized characters’ voices? Lol. It’s true that I care more about and pay more attention to my characters’ voices than my third person narrator’s voice, though.

By the way, to clarify what I mean by “brainstorming” nowadays, what I do is that I talk to myself on my phone memo pad (yes). I keep typing questions, like “why did character X do this?” “What did X do to make Y so mad?” “But if X did A, then why is BCD?” So the why’s, how’s, who’s, etc. I think of future events, but I keep questioning the logic of future events as well: “if he did this, then why didn’t he do this instead?” “I’m pretty sure he’s smart enough to do this instead of that, so what’s a valid reason for him to pick the ‘dumber’ option? If there isn’t a valid reason, then maybe you made a mistake; he probably did pick the smarter option.” Anyway, I bombard myself with questions and I keep answering my questions, posing possibilities, etc., until we (me and me :D) find the possibility that feels intuitively like what REALLY happens later. It’s this search for the truth via talking to yourself on your phone memo pad. 😀 😀 😀 Yeah it sounds really quirky, but hey, it works! It works really well, in fact. I don’t even need music or randomizers anymore! Maybe my pantsing abilities improved to the next level, yippee! By the way, this kind of “brainstorming”/ “talking to myself on a memo pad” is what I call “long-distance pantsing”.

Back to the visual vs verbal topic, I think it makes sense for me to be verbal on the characters’ voices but more visual on the narration, because my stories tend to be pretty dialogue (character’s voices)-focused. The narration is important too, but the narration sort of serves the dialogue, by clarifying who’s saying what, what people are doing while they are speaking, the transition actions, the emotions, thoughts, and motivations of the speaking characters, etc. Sometimes, I wonder whether I should be writing a script instead of a novel because it’s SO SO dialogue-focused, I mean, seriously! But I have never heard of a script that’s 1000+ pages long, so…And also, I really like the novel format of dialogue scenes, complete with tags and beats. Of course not everyone likes using tags, but I like them because I want to be super clear on who’s saying what, haha; it may be somewhat harder to always be clear on who’s speaking without using tags?

So yeah. Visual-processing for narration, but verbal-processing for dialogue? Although the dialogue can sometimes dominate the whole page and thus you realize that you’re actually writing, not brainstorming? And since dialogue is usually more important than narration in my stories, my dialogue = verbal, narration = visual means that I’m mostly verbal but partly visual? But then, as you said, we’re usually part verbal, part visual, rather than completely verbal. Okay, so that was my attempt to decide whether I’m an “expert” writer yet, haha XD The average age of participants were 25, though, and I’m only 23…so maybe I’ll be somewhat different 2 years later? Who knows?

Fast drafting, listening to the internal narration rather than our conscious thoughts of what should go on: Hmm, for me, rather than listening to internal narration, I think I simply write—so it’s not “I hear X, therefore I write X down”; it’s more like “Mysterious force X made Serena write ABC”, lol. The words just—come out of my hand! Creepy image, I know, but you get what I mean. XD It’s not always like this, though. Sometimes it’s the more normal hearing words then writing down the words; it’s just that oftentimes maybe the process is too fast for me to detect, so words just magically spout out of my hand…(Notice how I said spout out of my “hand” rather than “head/brain”. This might give a feeling of how completely out of my control my characters and their story are. XD) So…instead of the image of taking dictation from a lovely muse, I’m more like a robot that someone is controlling with a remote….=_= (Or a video game character someone is controlling with a joystick.) Such an unromantic image, haha! XD Though some of my characters have romantic ideals about robots, but that’s another story.

More on fast drafting: I feel like school teaches us not to do fast drafting but to THINK while we write. But writing craft books teach us todo the “sh*ty first draft” method. I think we get better at the fast draft method as we use it more and more. It’s also about becoming confident in letting go and relinquishing control. A lot of young writers feel uncomfortable letting go of control, I find, lol. I recently told a girl who is sort of a beginner novelist (writing her first novel) that instead of just the planning method, there’s also the pantsing method. She didn’t feel comfortable trying to pants, and believed that no good story can come out of planlessness. ^_^” Well, different strokes for different folks! I do find that not many believe that pure-pantsers can possibly complete an organized novel, lol. I can understand their disbelief, but as a pantser, I understand how surprisingly organized pantsing writing can be, and NO, pantsing doesn’t mean your story will go on forever without end; we can manage to end, lol. And I think people in the society mistake pantsing writing for random writing. We’re not “randomly writing whatever” at all; we are listening to our muse, which is as purposeful and non-random as planning! *end of pantser rant, lol*

“Interestingly, I’ve noticed one style of typo increasing with my internal narration method. Now that I draft by listening to an internal voice (rather than just looking around a scene in my head), I’m more often mis-typing “sound-alike” words: shoe, threw, etc. I usually realize the mistake right away, but apparently I don’t listen to myself very well. *snicker*”

Hey cool, that reminds me of what happens when I use my intuition to think of new character names. I often have a sound (especially for Chinese names), and I search for words with that sound. But sometimes I can’t find any appropriate words with those sounds my intuition indicated, so I have to pick second best words. For the Chinese language, there are multiple words for each type of sound, so I pick a word from that list of homophones. And omg, there are SO MANY homophones in Chinese, it’s crazy. That’s why it can be confusing listening to Mandarin, lol. Cantonese is easier with somewhat fewer homophones. But I’m biased because I’m Cantonese, haha, though I actually like Mandarin better…Okay getting off topic again…^_^”

“If we don’t know our characters very well, we might have to figure out what they’d do rather than just know based on their previous behavior.”

Interesting. I never do any “figuring out” at all! I just write and see what they do and say. =D And when I’ve written even just one scene, I can already deduce some bits of that new character’s personality from their dialogue, actions, reactions, etc. So instead of “figuring out what they would do”, my characters simply do it, and then I figure out their personalities afterwards, lol. If that makes any sense… So this is why I think my characters exist already before I start writing them, because things are revealed; I don’t need to decide on anything or “create” anything…

Patterns of story structure internalized…Yay I think I’ve got that internalized too since my pantsing also leads to story-looking (i.e. not random-looking) plots. I think this is because we’ve read a good number of novels, so we’ve internalized the basic story structures.

Hmm, automatic pattern recognitions or patterns of reasoning? Well, I very quickly intuit when a scene is getting boring and something interesting has to happen, and I am very quickly able to skip to something interesting and relevant to the story. So I have this “automatic boredom-avoider.” It’s like I have an audience in front of me, and am dead-scared of any yawns (or snores! :O), so I’m constantly on my toes in keeping things interesting. Of course, what is “interesting” is subjective, but I at the very least need to keep myself entertained constantly; if I get bored, then very likely the reader will too, haha.

More automatic processes: My scenes can often run long, and when I think it’s getting TOO long, I would go “chop chop, guys (my characters), you’ve got to wrap up asap”, and I would really manage to wrap up asap without knowing how I did it, but whatever, I’m just glad that I was successful at ending the scene asap. 😀 Another automatic process is that sometimes I would have a short list of topics my characters need to cover during this dialogue scene, and my characters would manage to somehow cover all the topics whilst still being themselves, being spontaneous, and not feel like they were forced to read off a script. So maybe this ability to get through specific “discussion topics” whilst staying true to the characters all throughout the scene, without consciously thinking about how to do this, is an automatic process? However, I feel that it’s not an ability to direct my characters subconsciously to do everything I want and whilst still being themselves; it’s my characters themselves who do all of that work, and they get through those discussion topics because the characters really did discuss those topics! Ref my discovery theory (discovering characters and discovering the story) vs the creating theory, haha.

So…I think with practice, our muse gets stronger? Or we become more intimately in tune with our muse? I.e. our telepathic connections with our characters grow stronger and more intense as we become more experienced writers? I really feel this way, though, because I undoubtedly feel more strongly connected to my characters and more able to reach them and channel them than I did some years ago. So yay we are developing our psychic/ telepathic powers! 😀 😀 😀

There are also certain phrase structures or words that I’ve learned to automatically avoid, because I personally dislike them, haha, but I’m not sure if that counts as one of these “automatic pattern recognitions”…

Woo, way too long of a comment again! XD But hopefully it was interesting to read!

P.S. I think my take-home point from my comment is: the more experience you have in pantsing, the more expert you become at pantsing! 😀 Expert pantsers! XD

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Jami Gold August 20, 2014 at 8:27 am

Hi Serena,

LOL! I didn’t even catch that reference–I suppose that’s better than “This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” 😉

Good question about what elements we might internally narrate. Again, I think we’d all develop our expertise in different ways, so I don’t think there’s a “wrong” way of doing it.

That said, like you, dialogue comes through the clearest for me. After that, I think of describing actions, emotions, and thoughts. In other words, I hear the internal narration for the elements that are more character driven, which goes along with our conversations about how our characters lead the way. Other elements, that of less deep POV elements such as settings and the like, are less clear for me.

Ha! Love the questioning the logic style of brainstorming. Hopefully that keeps plot holes out of your stories. 🙂

And with my dictation, I often don’t know what the voice/my fingers are going to say until I’m typing the words. LOL! It’s often a total surprise. So I understand that mysterious force, magic, remote–whatever–aspect too.

Ooo, totally agree with you on the pantser rant. Listening to our muse is NOT random writing. 😀

Yep, I understand what you mean about deducing our character’s personalities rather than figuring out what they’d do. Sometimes I have to translate our pantser methods to something a little more neutral for my blog posts. 😉

And I absolutely believe that we can get better at listening to our muse/subconscious, and/or that we become more in tune with that aspect. Years ago, I told some women–when they asked how I wrote–I’ve learned to listen to the voices. LOL!

Um yeah, I got quite a few odd looks for that. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung August 20, 2014 at 9:41 am

Yeah, it’s really sad that a lot of people believe that listening to voices is a sign of insanity. People are only insane if their voices make them do things that harm themselves and/or others, in my opinion. If the voices help you, then that’s NOT crazy at all! Silly society. XP

“Sometimes I have to translate our pantser methods to something a little more neutral for my blog posts. ;)”

Haha true.

Oh goodness, I hope those plot holes will go away. I can still spot plot holes from time to time, though, sigh. >< Thankfully almost all my plot holes I spotted so far are easy to edit.

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Jami Gold August 20, 2014 at 10:29 am

Hi Serena,

LOL! at “silly society.” 🙂

Yay for easy-to-fix-plot holes. *fingers crossed* it stays like that–if there are plot holes at all. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung August 22, 2014 at 9:40 am

“Yay for easy-to-fix-plot holes. *fingers crossed* it stays like that–if there are plot holes at all. ”

:O Yay! Yes, fingers crossed. 😀

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Tahlia Newland August 20, 2014 at 3:10 am

Practice makes perfect is an old saying that’s relevant here. When I started writing and studying writing seriously back in 2008, I never imagined that I would one day be editing books for others, but the point came, after publishing 5 novels, when I realised that I had an ‘ear’ for hearing where and how prose could be improved. In this one area at least, I’ve become a kind of ‘expert’ . I did an editing qualification, but I realised when doing it that my skill in line-editing is really something that has developed intuitively from all the reading, writing and studying I’ve been doing, but out of those three, the actual writing had the most affect. In studies of meditators, scientists discovered that something changed significantly in the brain after 100,000 hours. I’ve well and truly done that in writing.

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Jami Gold August 20, 2014 at 8:53 am

Hi Tahlia,

Interesting about how 100,000 hours marks a change in the brain, but there’s probably a reason we’ve heard that it takes 100,000 words to be a skilled writer too. 🙂 As you said, practice makes a difference. Thanks for the comment!

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Tam Francis August 21, 2014 at 8:27 am

This works for anything. My husband and I teach swing dancing and anyone can LEARN the steps, but I have to say, not everyone will be amazing. They may get to be a technical expert, but when talent and hard work are combined, the person without the natural talent is left behind.

At least with dance and sports. I would guess the same applies to writing. But what is talent or aptitude? A subject for another post?

Conversely, I’ve seen those with “talent” stagnate and fall behind because they don’t put in the hours.

I’m pretty sure this applies to writing as well. It’s interesting food for thought anyway.

By this assessment, I’m not quite an expert writer, but not a novice, either. YAY! Now, whether I have natural talent that I’m building on, well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

~ Tam Francis ~
http://www.girlinthejitterbugdress.com

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Jami Gold August 21, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Hi Tam,

Yay! for not being a novice anymore. LOL! I can only speak for myself, but I know the beginning part of my learning curve felt very steep. Then it reached a point where I wondered if it would ever get better (which is how you know you’re getting closer 😉 ). Until finally, I reached a gradual incline. If we’re lucky, we’ll always learn something new, so the learning curve never goes away entirely. 😀

Interesting question about talent. For writers–as most people have the ability to communicate decently–I suspect “talent” might be less important. Since caveman days, we’ve all been sharing stories, which is far different from the numbers of people learning a certain dance or sport.

That’s not to say that everyone would have an equal ease of storytelling ability. Some people can’t tell a story joke to save their life. LOL! But I do suspect it might be slightly more innate that physical coordination abilities (says the klutz 😉 ). Although I was wondering how mental patterns compared to physical “muscle memory” patterns while I wrote the post, so we were thinking of the same aspects there.

Great question! And obviously that’s all just IMHO, but it’s an interesting topic to think about. Thanks for the comment!

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Robin September 11, 2014 at 11:09 am

Interesting post! In the last chapter I wrote, I found several typos of Road/Rode” which struck me as very strange. But maybe it was a good sign and not a bad one.

Thanks for the great Blog!!

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Jami Gold September 11, 2014 at 11:52 am

Hi Robin,

I don’t know if it’s a “good” sign or not, but I know mistakes like that are common among experienced writers. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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