It’s no great secret that people who have excelled in one discipline will often excel in another when they turn their attention to it.
They have learned the art of mastery.
The previously mastered discipline is not important.
What is important are the lessons learned about mastery itself, as well as the process of achievement.
For the purpose of this article, we are going to be looking at some of the lessons to be learned from mastering a particular discipline, then we are going to apply those lessons to writing.
Mastery is the same across all disciplines, whether in sports, the arts, science or whatever.
To master your discipline—in this case writing—there are certain things you must do in order to make that possible.
If writing means more to you than superficial success—and if you want to master writing and being a writer—learn and apply the following lessons.
Lesson #1: Cultivate a burning desire for success.
Desire is important when it comes finding success.
If you don’t have enough desire to succeed you will not master anything.
It is burning desire that will energize you enough to take action on your goals.
Make that desire strong enough and nothing will be able to stand in your way.
Burning desire will insure you keep going through the tedium and inevitable frustration you will find yourself up against along the road to mastery.
Without desire it would be too easy to give up when things got tough.
And things will get tough.
You will face many challenges along the road to writing mastery and it’s going to take more than a vague notion of wanting to be successful to get you through them.
Wanting success is not enough by itself.
Writing because you want to be famous, or because you want to be rich, are the wrong reasons to write.
Those goals in and of themselves will not be enough to sustain you through the hard times.
What I discovered when I was mastering martial arts (I’ve been doing it for over thirty years now) was that only my love for the discipline and genuine desire to master the discipline got me through.
If you have a genuine desire to master the art of writing, without any consideration for money or fame or any other superficial off-shoot to mastery, then you will most likely succeed.
Your motives have to be pure though.
The more pure your motives the more likely you are to attain true mastery over your art.
The other stuff, the trappings of success, will come along in their own time, but they shouldn’t be the main reason you want to be a writer.
Learn to write for the love of writing, for the love of the art and craft of writing.
Write because you want to master writing.
Let mastery, not “success” be the fuel for your desire.
Once you give yourself over to the pursuit of mastery, there will be no stopping you.
Lesson #2: Accept that mastery will take time.
You can’t master a discipline like writing over night. Should you decide to pursue the art of writing and being a writer, it’s imperative that you settle in for the long haul.
Writing, like most other disciplines, is a long game and if you want to be successful at it you must accept that.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the ten thousand hour rule, which states that to master a discipline you must put at least ten thousand hours of practice into it.
That many hours of practice adds up to between five and ten years for most people, depending on how many hours a day you practice.
No one is saying that you can’t find success before that. Anything can happen after all.
With the self-publishing revolution in full swing these days, it’s also possible for you to start making money and selling books early on in your career.
However, it’s unlikely that you will fully grasp the art of writing without at least several years of practice, especially if you are starting from scratch.
It may even take you that long to even be able to finish a piece of work if you are not yet ready to be a professional writer.
It can take some people years just to motivate themselves enough to give writing their best shot, which is what we are talking about here, giving writing your best shot.
Mastery requires nothing less than your best shot.
Your practice must also be deliberate in nature.
Deliberate practice differs from ordinary practice in that practicing deliberately means doing so with complete focus and working constantly just beyond the edge of your current abilities.
It means pushing the boundaries of what you are capable off.
Deliberate practice dictates that you work at the edge of your abilities at all times. This is the only way to make progress.
What does this mean in terms of being a writer?
It means that every time you sit down to write you should be trying to deliberately master some aspect of the craft, or a particular writing technique.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do isolated writing exercises, which I am personally not a big fan off.
It’s better to practice within the context of your own work because then you can see more clearly how a particular technique or aspect of the craft relates to the bigger picture, how it fits in with the rest of your work.
If you are writing fiction for instance, every time you write you should concentrate on improving particular aspects of your work by practicing writing just beyond your current abilities.
Take the “show, don’t tell” rule as an example, which is something I’m currently working on improving at the moment.
To deliberately practice this aspect of the writing craft, you look for sections in your work that are told and not shown, and then do your best to show instead of tell. You would try your best to transform flat narrative into sparkling, descriptive narrative that shows and brings your work to life.
It’s okay to struggle with this. Lord knows, I always do.
The point though, is that every time you practice showing instead of telling, despite the frustration involved with getting it right, you are practicing deliberately so that you get better at it each time you do it.
In simple terms, this is the way to mastery and it can be applied to whatever aspect of the writing craft you want, like writing dialogue, description, crafting characters, constructing plot, working with themes or whatever.
The same methods can be applied to non-fiction and article writing.
You may work on making your message more clear when you sit down to write, or you may work on putting stories into your books and articles and blog posts, or you may choose to focus on making your writing more concise and less wordy.
The point is that you do all this deliberately, consciously, pushing the envelope every time, expanding the boundaries of what you currently believe you are capable off.
This is deliberate practice and it’s also what sets apart amateurs from professionals in any field, as explained by Daniel Goldman:
Amateurs are content at some point to let their efforts become bottom-up operations. After about fifty hours of training — whether in skiing or driving — people get to that “good-enough” performance level, where they can go through the motions more or less effortlessly. They no longer feel the need for concentrated practice, but are content to coast on what they’ve learned. No matter how much more they practice in this bottom-up mode, their improvement will be negligible.
The experts, in contrast, keep paying attention top-down, intentionally counteracting the brain’s urge to automatize routines. They concentrate actively on those moves they have yet to perfect, on correcting what’s not working in their game, and on refining their mental models of how to play the game, or focusing on the particulars of feedback from a seasoned coach. Those at the top never stop learning: if at any point they start coasting and stop such smart practice, too much of their game becomes bottom-up and their skills plateau.
Lesson #3: Discipline is essential to success and mastery.
You won’t get anywhere without discipline.
Discipline will insure you stick to practicing every day.
Look at any successful athlete or business person or even writer and you will see that they have the discipline to practice what they do every single day over many years, often sacrificing other things just so they can have the time to practice.
If you want to master writing you have to apply yourself to the task like any discipline.
When I taught martial arts and self defense full time, it used to amaze me the amount of people who would come up and demand that I teach them how to be martial arts gods without them having to put of any practice in to get there.
People who have found success in other disciplines simply don’t have that level ignorance because they know implicitly what it takes to master something and be successful at it.
Leonardo Di Vinci was undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest artists, producing some of the most amazing art the world has ever seen. Many people think that Di Vinci was some kind of born genius who just woke up one day and churned out these awe-inspiring pieces of art, just like that.
What many people don’t know about Di Vinci is that he spent ten years practicing his art every single day. He would take a sketch pad and spend hours every day drawing and sketching things, seeing how things were constructed, how living things moved, what their anatomy was.
Di Vinci did all that before he ever produced any of the works he is best known for today.
He spent ten years deliberately practicing his art.
To do that takes discipline.
If you don’t have discipline you won’t practice and if you won’t practice you won’t master anything. It’s that simple.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is another seeming force of nature who built his success upon the virtue of self-discipline. Love him or hate him, the man has achieved more in one lifetime than most people could achieve in ten lifetimes.
He knew how to apply discipline to get what he wanted.
He learned the value of discipline early in life when he took up bodybuilding. He cultivated the habit of turning up to the gym every day and training for hours at a time. That discipline allowed him to become one of the greatest bodybuilders ever.
When he quit bodybuilding, Schwarzenegger went on to apply the same discipline to acting (“Get to the chopper!) and politics (“I am the Gummybear of Kalikornia.”), both of which he went far in to say the least.
He couldn’t have done that if he didn’t have the discipline to apply himself first.
Discipline is about creating habits. In writing terms you must create the habit of writing every day.
Anything less and you can never hope to master an art like writing.
Some people despair when they hear that, thinking they would never be able to write every day for whatever reason.
That’s bullshit. Really, it is.
How many hours a day do most people waste watching TV, indulging in news and social media or simply doing nothing?
If you want to do it you will make time, it’s that simple.
Several hours spent practicing every day would be good, full days even better, but less than an hour or even ten minutes a day is better than nothing at all.
If the desire is there you will find a way to practice.
Lesson #4: Immerse yourself in what you are doing.
You can’t adequately master two things at once.
True mastery requires that you concentrate on a single discipline at a time.
Not only that, you must immerse yourself completely in it.
In the martial arts world, a lot of people have latched on to the concept of training multiple arts at once, i.e mixed martial arts. The problem with this is that people end up a Jack of all trades and master of none.
Having a surface knowledge of something is useless if you want to truly master it.
Mastery requires that you go deep, that you practically drown yourself in the discipline.
In writing terms, every thing you do has to be about writing. The majority of your time should be spent practicing the art of writing. When you aren’t practicing you should be reading or discussing or thinking about writing in some way.
Immersing yourself in this way is the path to real progress.
You need to be all in. Half in won’t cut it.
Some people balk at this level of commitment, seeing it as obsessive behavior. Maybe it is, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that to succeed, to attain mastery, you need to be a little bit obsessed.
Look at any successful person and you will see this for yourself.
How dedicated are you? How much do you want it?
If you can’t say that you are all in there isn’t much point in trying. Writing will only ever be a hobby in that case. If that suits you, fine.
If you want to be a professional however, you have to give yourself over completely.
Imagine if Da Vinci only half applied himself to his art for those ten years he spent practicing. Do you think he still would have been able to create the great works that he did? Unlikely.
To tap your full potential as a writer you have to earn the right to do so. That means putting in the work and giving yourself over totally to the discipline.
Fully immerse yourself in writing if you want the real rewards that mastery can bring.
Go All In To Find Success
Mastery is as easy and as hard as that.
To master the discipline of writing (or any other discipline for that matter) and find success is not that complicated a process. It just requires dedication, immersion and deliberate practice.
The hard part is applying oneself to these things.
In saying that, if you really want to be a writer you will do whatever is required of you to make that happen.
Having that burning desire to succeed will insure you stick at it when the going gets tough or when things get tedious beyond words, which can be often when you are trying to master something.
You’ll have a purpose though.
Purpose is a powerful thing. Once you go down the road of having a true purpose, you tap into a power that will pull you along by its own momentum.
It’s a great thing to experience and the closest you will ever come to being a god of creation who treads their own path through a world of their own making.
You are God.
Go practice creating.
You know what I mean…
The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How by Daniel Coyle
The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life by Thomas M. Sterner
Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goldman
Mastery by Robert Greene