The thing is, just writing isn't enough. Three years ago, I was writing a lot, but I wasn't getting any better, so I sought out some help. I found it at Forward Motion (www.fmwriters.com).
They told me some things I didn't want to hear, but gently. When I got past my reaction and started listening, my writing started to get better. Now, I'd be embarrassed to show anyone the writing I'd done before.
The difference is what psychologists call Deliberate Practice. You don't just practice, you have to analyze what it is you're doing. What are you doing right? What's not working? What's missing?
Athletes do this all the time – hands together, head down, choke up on the bat. The best athletes keep paying attention to the details and they keep getting better. Michael Jordan practiced free-throws every day and Alex Rodriguez concentrates on fielding grounders to the right and to the left. (http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/11/how-did-a-rod-get-so-good/)
Me, I concentrate on creating a sense of place, adding emotion and micro-action to dialogue, and creating realistic dialogue in the first place. Other writers are working on other things and we try to help each other. But the core of this is the practice.
I've fallen into the trap of not writing if I'm not sure of something and all that's accomplished is that I've got a nasty case of writer's block. It's a little like the baseball game I watched last night – 20 innings and seven hours of no scoring baseball. The other team kept going in what was termed the "traditional" way, not using their starting pitchers as relief pitchers and such. My team (the Mets for those who don't know), did try to shake things up a bit. They kept the closer out until they got a lead and when the other team tied the game, they used a starter to close the game. He got his first save, ever.
What the Mets were doing was trying something, anything, to break the logjam. And this time, they were the first to score and they ultimately won the game. After 11pm when the game started at 4 pm.
So, I'm going to try to write more often, to shake things up and break the logjam. I won't worry too much if the description I'm working on will end up in the final story, or if this character would really get that angry. Those sorts of questions will be for the revision and the edit – the second draft. It won't be wasted writing, it'll be practice. And I'll continue to analyze it, just not before I've actually written it.
Here's the link to Ericsson's research: http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel/EricssonDeliberatePracticePR93.pdf
It's also discussed in the book, Freakanomics, if you're interested in learning more about Deliberate Practice.
What do you need to practice?