Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Effortful Study

It's been a productive day today. I wrote a new draft of my flash fiction story on my Neo while waiting for DMV to tell me that I don't have the paperwork they want (grrr...), did a bit of research for my Ph.D., and wrote a new scene for one of the short stories I'm working on. Not bad at all. The title of this entry comes from the Ph.D. research, actually. I was reading an article in Scientific American* about expertise and how experts remember things. It quotes some research that I already had in my thesis proposal, but one passage I found particularly relevant in light of the previous entry.

Anders Ericsson argues that experience per se is not what matters for achieving expert status, but "effortful study." Erricsson defines effortful study as continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's ability. This explains why many people (myself included) show an early large improvement in ability, but this improvement rate rapidly tapers off as soon as the learner achieves an average level of proficiency. This applies to music, driving, golf, almost anything. In fact, Ericsson makes the example that someone can play ten thousand hours of golf and never achieve expert status because they aren't playing against anyone other than amateurs like themselves. Experts-in-training, Ericsson contends, are continually looking at their efforts and trying to figure out how they can improve.

I've read many bios of science fiction grandmasters who say they taught themselves how to write by critically examining the works of others. The "Clarion Method" of workshopping fits well within Ericsson's theory as well -- in fact, it's an almost classic example, and certainly explains why students can progress so rapidly in just six weeks at Clarion. it also provides a bit of theoretical justification for my strive to get a Hugo in two years. A concerted effort to work towards that challenge -- well beyond my abilities right now -- is exactly what's needed to improve.

It's also seriously making me wish I could go to Clarion next summer as planned. I had everything arranged so that next summer would be the perfect time, both logisitically and professionally. I think by next summer I will be exactly at the place in my professional development where Clarion will do me the most good. My daughter would also be old enough that she can live without Daddy for six weeks without too much hardship. With the new baby due in two months, though, that's going to be just the wrong time to be away. I would never forgive myself if I missed her first steps. Ah well. Life is what happens while we're making other plans, eh?

*A side note, all science fiction authors should read Scientific American -- there's a wealth of story ideas there, accessible even to the non-scientist.

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