Author Archives: mnj23

The Fun Part

Megan Norris Jones

When I was a kid, my parents sent me to piano lessons. I had a vague notion that it might be kind of neat to play a musical instrument. That vague notion, however, did not translate into me actually practicing the piano. Most weeks, my thirty-minute lessons were the only practice I got. Which is how I became the musical genius I am today.

Kidding. My entire piano repertoire is pecking out “Twinkle Twinkle Little a Star” with one hand. I didn’t practice, so I never got better.

When it comes to writing, however, I have more than a vague notion about scratching out a story. I have serious goals, and I’ve put in the time to develop my skills, strengthen my weak points, and push my writing ability to its limit.
I wrote about the value of deliberate practice in an earlier post as a means of improving a skill. The things that sets deliberate practice apart from regular practice is that it requires me to constantly operate at the edge of my capacity in an effort to continue expanding that capacity. Continue reading

The Idea Soup of My Journal

Megan Norris Jones

When I sit down to work on my novel, or even this blog post, I want a keyboard (or at least a touchpad) and a screen. I’ve waxed eloquent elsewhere about the Scrivener writing app and its more portable versions for the iPad and iPhone. You know that I love me some digital words. I set my schedule on iCal, my to-dos on Wunderlist, and reach out to the world on Twitter (@mnj23). But I still can’t let go of my paper journal, and my writing benefits as a result. Continue reading

Pretty Good

Megan Norris Jones

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000 hour rule, which states that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill. This notion is both encouraging and discouraging. It’s encouraging because it means if I practice, I can become good. It has inspired me to dedicate time to my craft and consciously cultivate the skills I lack. It’s discouraging when I consider how long 10,000 take to rack up when I squeeze writing time into 15-30 minute increments. This is going to take a while.

Then I heard a TED Talk by Josh Kaufman, and he introduced me to the 20-hour rule. In it, he argues that, while it might take 10,000 hours to master a skill, 20 hours of deliberate practice can make you decent at most things. Continue reading

The Rest of Life

Megan Norris Jones

I heard Kate DiCamillo speak at a book festival last year, and she described getting a job at a warehouse when she first got serious about writing. The job gave her time to write, but it also gave her the mental space to write. She spent her work day using her body and then her writing day using her mind. It created a balanced life.

That kind of balance is hard to come by, but it’s vital for a writer to produce good work. And it’s a concept I’ve been learning the hard way. Continue reading

Make Your Scene Better by Making It Worse

Megan Norris Jones

Megan Norris Jones

I’m not a risk taker. I’m not drawn to danger. I always look before I leap. My prudence has brought me a pleasant and happy life. But pleasant and happy lives, however great for living, do not make  great fiction. So, when I am writing, I have to fight my own instincts to do things the careful way. My characters are not my children who need to be protected. What they really need is a spark of danger to get their story going.

I have been working on a sequence in my work in progress that I thought would be lovely and enjoyable, but instead it was stagnant and just plain dull.  I finally realized that I was being too careful with my characters. Instead of bringing them conflict, I was working to protect them. Continue reading