Practice and Repetition

While listening to the podcast episode on the Tim Ferris Show with Seth Godin as the guest, I made a note of a small piece of practical writing advice Seth gives. He says,

“This is easy. Write poorly. Continue writing poorly. Write poorly until it’s not bad anymore and then you’ll have something you can use. People who have trouble coming up with good ideas, if they’re telling you the truth, will tell you they don’t have very many bad ideas. But people who have plenty of good ideas, if they’re telling you the truth, will say they have even more bad ideas. So the goal isn’t to get good ideas; the goal is to get bad ideas. Because once you get enough bad ideas, then some good ones have to show up.

This is the opposite as we’re taught “quality over quantity” but usually for any skill development, the mantra should be “quantity over quality”. The more you practice, the more you’ll be making mistakes, the more you’ll be learning from them and ultimately the more you’ll improve.

Waiting for the perfect time to do the perfect work is stupid and unrealistic as the perfect time doesn’t exist. Starting it and gradually making things better and better with each step seems like the practical way out.

To add, here’s a famous parable from the book Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland that gives a real-life example of this,

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

The lesson here is to never wait for the perfect timing. Just start it and figure out things as you go. Keep making clay pots until you’re satisfied, have some bad ones, make some mistakes and use them as your learning curves. The key is to never stop or get discouraged by your early attempts. This is how practice and repetition together help in skill development.