Why Does Practice Matter?

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell argues, based on his talks with successful people and a literature review on the topic, that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get good at something.

Here at Writing Commons, we don’t want to put a timer on the amount of practice it takes to get good at writing and thinking. We assume the length of time depends on innumerable variables. And we think it’s more than possible that you can become adept at thinking and communicating in fewer hours. Nonetheless, we do love Gladwell’s argument. It’s resonates with us. And it echoes the advice writers over the years (see, e.g., The Paris Review Interviews. Notice how frequently writers speak of daily efforts and seat time.)

Below is a quick summary of how we believe practice informs the development of your thinking and communication skills. (See The Writing Process, a 21st Century Competency-based Model to drill down into the details.)

You (as a speaker/writer/thinker) enter a rhetorical situation with declarative/conceptual knowledge and procedural/tacit knowledge.

Rhetoric & Composition, the interdisciplinary, academic home for writers, constitutes the go-to archive for declarative/conceptual knowledge. That said, @ Writing Commons we are employing the taxonomy of competencies theorized by the National Research Council; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Board on Testing and Assessment; Board on Science Education; Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills:

Cognitive Competencies:

Intrapersonal Competencies: 

Interpersonal Competencies:

For instance, based on your past efforts trying to solve a complex problem, you have probably learned to listen to and dialog with your inner speech and felt sense. Chances are you don’t know those terms or haven’t thought much about the theory or implications of your dialogs with your inner voice. Nonetheless, you routinely access this competency, especially when facing a new, non-routine problem.

Another example would be your knowledge of grammar of your native language. You very well may not know the names for a grammatical error, yet you recognize the error when you or someone else makes it.

Over time, as you face new rhetorical situations and experiment with new genres, media, and communication channels, your declarative/conceptual knowledge and procedural/tacit knowledge becomes more robust. This empowers you to face increasingly more difficult communication situations with aplomb and success. 

The Takeaway

So, here’s the top-level takeaway: 

You can become an excellent researcher, writer, collaborator, and communicator. To do so, you need to work through complex problems. You need to get in the game. And by writing, by failing, you will develop your conceptual and procedural knowledge.  And these skills won’t only lead to more fun at work, they will transform you. And hopefully, these skills will help you make the world a better place as they will empower you to have agency, to create change for yourself and the people you love.

So, even though we realize it sounds a bit cultish or just plain silly, we strongly recommend you embrace a positive outlook on your development and potential. With that in mind, to jump start your apprenticeship, we recommend you repeat this mantra to yourself when you face tough obstacles:

Just because communication and thinking through this problem and developing a creative solution isn’t easy doesn’t mean I can’t do it. In fact, I have amazing potential…I’ve got this!

But Wait, There’s More!

After acknowledging how challenging it can be to develop your communication skills, we are pleased to share some really good news with you: 

the competencies you develop via writing and thinking are the same competencies you need to succeed in school, work and life.

Suggested Readings

See Also

Why Does Writing (or Public Speaking) Matter?
What is Communication?
Ten Steps to Success as a Communicator in the 21st Century

Ok, so after you’ve got your robes, sandals, and mantra in place, you can get down to business, assuming you choose the red pill.

Writing Commons has over a thousand articles about writing and writing processes. Frankly, we believe all of these pages are necessary and potentially helpful. That qualifier aside, here’s a short list of must reads.