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In these posts, I talk a lot about different playwriting techniques. But today I want to take a step back and share what I believe is the #1 most important way to improve your skills as a playwright–or to improve any kind of skill, really.

And that method is purposeful practice.

The effectiveness of purposeful practice becomes really clear, I believe, with musical instruments. I played guitar for a few years and experienced this myself. Here’s how my progression as a guitar player went:

As a complete beginner, I focused on learning a few chords (purposeful practice). During this time, my guitar skills improved rapidly. I went from zero knowledge to being able to play simple songs in a relatively short amount of time.

Once I knew enough chords to play most popular songs, or at least a simplified version of them, something funny happened…my progress slowed down considerably.

It wasn’t that I spent less time playing the guitar. If anything, I spent MORE time learning and playing some of my favorite songs.

But I was no longer making a purposeful effort to improve a specific element of my playwriting. Instead I was playing around, enjoying myself but not really pushing the boundaries of my abilities.

Then at a certain point, I began learning and practicing scales. Once more I was engaging in purposeful practice–and once more my skills began to improve rapidly.

I believe this same principle applies to any new skill, and that includes playwriting.

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing for fun. Writing should be fun!

But if and when you decide you want to improve your skills, I highly recommend taking the time to think about what aspects of craft you need/want to improve most–then engage in some purposeful practice to focus on those specific skills.

10-minute plays are a great medium for this.

Want to improve your characterization? Write a 10-minute play with the most compelling character you can.

Want to improve your subtext? Write a 10-minute play in which the main conflict in the scene is never explicitly stated.

Want to improve your ability to write suspense? Write a 10-minute play that’s absolutely drenched in suspense.

And so on.

By really focusing on one specific aspect of craft, you’ll level up in that aspect much more quickly. Then, when that aspect of craft becomes second nature, you can move on to improving another aspect of craft.

I believe this is the most effective way to improve your playwriting skills and put yourself in a great position to write the best play you’re able to write.