Writing

Three sisters, raised in a remote village, who at a young age produced some of the most lauded works in English literature. Charlotte (author of Jane Eyre), Emily (Wuthering Heights), and Anne (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall).

The Bröntes’ Training Ground: Audio Slideshow

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Lessons

World-class writing skill, like soccer or skateboarding or anything else, requires 10,000 hours of deep practice – firing and honing skill circuits. The Bröntes’ special tool was called their Little Books: dozens of tiny, handmade journals they filled with thousands of pages of stories, poems, plays, and novels from the time they were quite young. Their 10,000 hours was particularly efficient because they:

  • Were willing to make mistakes. Out of view of any parent or teacher’s eye, they could boldly experiment (and fail) over and over. They became great writers not in spite of the fact that they started out immature and imitative—to the contrary, they became great writers precisely because they were willing and able to spend vast amounts of time being immature and imitative.
  • Worked from a platform of existing stories. Far from inventing things out of thin air, the Brontes’ Little Books were their reinterpretations (a.k.a. ripoffs) of stories they had read elsewhere, in magazines and books. In this way, they learned structure and technique—what works and what doesn’t.
  • Experienced it as an enthralling game. The Little Books were to the Brontes what empty swimming pools were to the skateboarding Z-Boys: a place to cooperate, compete, and entertain each other with ever-more-difficult feats of skill. In other words: a hothouse for skill circuits.


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9 Responses to “The Brönte Sisters, West Yorkshire, England”

  1. Judy Brotherton says:

    Thank you for sharing beautifully the concept that the key to learning is the need for the safety to make errors & corrections’.

    I listen to constructive Non Fiction audio books as i go to sleep hoping to program proactively all that i want to learn. Clearly, my intention is to learn without errors. Visualization, meditation, affirmations, reading constructive books: all teach us to reprogram w/what we want.

    You remind me that most all I know is related to my eagerness to practice daily for love of gathering that next step to knowing including reading new material is a practice to acquiring more knowledge on my subject of interest.

    Learning clarinet/guitar/tennis/golf endlessly ‘bad’, gave me the love for practicing for today’s perfection yet never attaining the illusive ultimate lesson YoYo gives himself & the world.

    As a student, I loved weekly tests & couldn’t wait to see what i missed. The fun for me was learning what i didn’t know. How much i knew was a surprise so I’d read my right answers thinking ‘hmmmmmmmmmm isn’t that nice that is right’. Reinforcing what i didn’t know I knew.
    For me tests were safe/enjoyable teachers & for my nieces they are feared teachers.

    Your book will assist all of us to take error/correction out of the realm of right/wrong evaluation/judgment. All such ‘negative’ words to so many that defend themselves into not caring to know for fear of judging themselves inadequate.

    ‘Social Intelligence’ Dan Goldman had a perfect formula for allowing kids to be safe w/learning answers. Researchers divided a Spanish class in half giving half the class answers to the questions in Spanish & the other half the questions w/blank spaces that need the correct Spanish word. The ‘blank’ half had to ask for the Spanish ‘needed’ word in Spanish. The half w/the correct answer had to give the ‘wanting an answer half’ the correct Spanish word by using a full Spanish sentence to share the answer.
    This was such a win/win experience the teacher couldn’t get the kids to hear the dismissal bell let alone leave the game of sharing answers.

    There are ways to make error correction safe & fun like learning to ski. You have accomplished this with your book & your website.
    I had soooooooooo much fun finding the answers to my questions on your site. Can’t wait for the book. I’m ready to practice & correct, correct, correct.

  2. John T Kelly says:

    The biggest importance of this work – in my opinion – has to do with the impact in can have in keeping people eagerly engaged with LEARNING. Schools and our society here in the states seem entirely focused on right and wrong – with major ‘judgement’ attached to it.

    People grow tired of being made wrong (judged) and just stop reaching out because their ‘hand’ has been slapped too many times.

    With judgement being replaced with simple ‘course corrections’ – as you would if you were riding a bike – lead people to remained engaged with learning – a ‘Top Five’ core skill.

    Thank you for your work – it’s impact will be positive & will effect generations of people!

    John T Kelly

  3. [...] can relate. So can the Bronte sisters, I imagine. Miracles happen all the time in writing, but they’re almost all little ones, that [...]

  4. [...] environment helps those talents along exactly as it does in the case of the Williams sisters or the Brontes: they are motivated to deeply practice in that [...]

  5. Hi Daniel,

    I read both The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent. At one point you say “writers and artists do it as well” referring to ‘deep practice.’ I recommended to everyone in my writers’ group to buy and study The Talent Code.
    Could you give me sources or specific steps to be taken regarding how can a writer apply ‘deep practice’ to his/her writing?
    Bronte sisters example is great for kids but we are all adults in my group.
    There are 12 pages devoted to professional writers in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, but no details of what these pro writers actually do to ‘deep practice.’
    Thank you in advance.

    Regards,
    Adam Wieckowski Toronto Canada

  6. djcoyle says:

    Hi Adam, Thanks for the question; it’s a great one. I’d say this:
    1) find models you love/admire and dissect them. Read them over and over and break them down — diagram them. (I’d start with sentences and paragraphs, then get bigger.) Figure out why they work so well. Spot patterns. When I was starting, whenever I saw a sentence I liked, I copied it onto a card, then kept the stack of cards to look at. The patterns start popping out. 2) Emulate. Write stories in the style of the stories you admire. Don’t try to be original — that’ll happen on its own. Try to write every day. 3) Rewrite everything over and over. Rewriting, in the long run, is just as important as the writing. Revisit, refashion, rebuild. Be ruthless.
    I hope that helps, if only in some small way.
    Also, I thought this piece, by Lee Child, is very useful: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/08/a-simple-way-to-create-suspense/

    Best,
    Dan

  7. viviana says:

    Dear Daniel,

    I am one of the 70,000 over thousand people taking part in the writing course held by Prof. Comer. I watched the live workshop where you shared not only your experience but also gave some invaluable pointers on being a writer, it’s just very generous of you to share not only your knowledge and experience but also to give some insight on how a writer can become an author. Loved the part where you said “start with a human face..”. I strongly believe that an author leaves a legacy to his readers, in my opinion the Talent Code is just that. Look forward to the pleasure of learning from you.

    Best wishes,

    Viviana

  8. djcoyle says:

    Thanks, Viviana — your kind words make my day. I hugely enjoyed meeting up with class; hope to do it again sometime. Best, Dan

  9. Holly says:

    Hi Daniel, I’m very much enjoying your book The Talent Code. Unfortunately I was not in Professor Comer’s class last year, but I would love to hear the tips and pointers that you shared with aspiring writers.

    Regards,
    Holly

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