Fresh from an enjoyable evening of playing the video game “Guitar Hero,” a psychologist at New York University named Gary Marcus decided he wanted to learn to master the guitar. After succeeding, he penned a book about his experience called Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning, which sounds like a fascinating book. Gary’s inspiring tale offers some helpful hints we can all take to heart as we work to get to the next level in our writing.
Take your time: On average, people need to spend 10,000 on any skill before they achieve mastery — whether playing a guitar or writing. One barrier to developing proficiency can be self-imposed limitations. Says Gary: “Learning an instrument is in part, conquering your own fears.” Whether we’re playing music or writing, we need to be patient with ourselves and not let fear make us impatient or dissatisfied with our progress.
Target your weakness: Figure out what you need to do to improve and then focus on that consistently. “Don’t just play the four songs you already know. Part of what you’re trying to do is to outwit yourself.” In music as in writing, it can be easy to hit a plateau where we’re just maintaining what we know. But to improve and grow, we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and focus on what we don’t do well.
Think fun: Enjoying what you’re learning makes all the difference: When he began playing the guitar, Marcus said “I became obsessed and I enjoyed the obsession….I started out with as little talent as anybody, and I got to the point where I could make up my own music. If I can get there, anyone who wants to be proficient can.” The takeaway for us as writers? It’s the fun factor that makes the act of mastery inherently satisfying. So let’s play on the page, let’s enjoy the journey. And write on!