Writers and the 10,000 Hour Principle
Credit Where Credit Is Due
On my bookshelf is the third non-fiction book written by Malcolm Gladwell titled “Outliers.” Unlike many books on my shelf, this one has no dust on it. It does, however, have many dog ears, thanks to the fact that I am constantly picking it up, reading a section, folding the page corner for future reference, and then placing the book back on the shelf.
It is worn out for sure.
But it is as relevant today as it was in 2008 when I first read it.
And the message is as relevant today as it was when passed down from masters to apprentices thousands of years ago.
You have to work at your craft!
You have to pay your dues!
You have to strive for success!
In his book, Gladwell takes a look at the factors that lead to high levels of success, and one such factor is the “10,000-Hour Rule,” meaning that a key to success, in any field, is a matter of practicing a task for that amount of hours.
Where Am I Right Now?
Well, as best as I can tell, I am currently hovering around 8,000 hours. Sometime during the summer of 2015, I will hit the 10,000 hour mark, and that means, of course, that I will then be a successful writer.
Now, I say “maybe” because that whole “key to success” statement of Gladwell’s is a bit nebulous. What does success mean to a writer? For that matter, what does success mean for a weaver, an accountant, a teacher or a mechanic?
Some rather famous writers blew past ten-thousand hours without finding success. Some wrote for thirty-thousand, forty-thousand, and fifty-thousand hours, and still success eluded them. Some died without ever embracing that fickle wench, only to have her grace them with her presence after they were buried among the tombstones.
But I digress! Part of the problem, then, is in defining success.
The other murky part of the “10,000-Hour Rule” is in the “practicing a task” suggestion. What, exactly, does it mean to “practice a task” if you are a writer? If you simply sit down for five hours and write randomly, is that not practicing? But are you improving enough to reach the “master” level after ten-thousand hours, or does practicing need to be a bit more involved?
That’s the rub, ‘eh?
Put Me In, Coach
When I was a young tyke, I wanted to be a major league baseball player. Big dreams, little kid, standard stuff for sure….except that I was raised by a man who understood the true meaning of Gladwell’s principle before Gladwell even wrote it.
When I was eight or nine years old, I told my dad I was going to be a pro, and like a good father, he told me that was wonderful, and patted me on the head, and then he threw me a curveball in words. He asked me what I was going to do to achieve that goal.
I told him I was going to go out and play catch with my friend.
He said wonderful.
Next week, same conversation, same question, same answer, and the week after that it was repeated.
Finally, after three weeks, my dad mentioned to me that it took more than playing catch to become a professional baseball player. He said I needed to learn how to paint the corners with my fastball. I needed to learn a pickoff move, and how to throw a curveball. He told me I needed to master changing speeds, and he suggested that I study some of the great pitchers of that time and learn from them.
Suddenly, becoming a major league baseball player didn’t seem so easy.
But my father was correct, and now I pass on his message to you, my writing friends.
It’s Not About Just Putting in the Time
Simply writing for ten-thousand hours does not make a person a great writer. It simply means that writer has the ability to sit for long periods of time writing nouns and verbs. Without a doubt, a writer will improve over that period, but will he/she master the craft? Certainly not!
To master the craft of writing, one must learn from the masters. One must practice using metaphors and similes. One must work on tone, pace, rhythm, and voice. One must delve into the finer nuances of writing, and when one has experienced a bit of skill in doing these things, one must then work harder.
I recently wrote an article about writing evil characters. I shared a portion of my latest novel, Shadows Kill, and in that article I described some rather horrific scenes of torture and murder. Do I enjoy writing such things? Certainly not; in fact, I would go as far as saying that I am repulsed while writing them, and that is exactly the reason why I do it. I do not believe I will grow as a writer unless I leave my comfort zone and stretch my limits.
You see, I can write an article like this one in about an hour. It requires very little thought or effort on my part. I was, after all, a teacher in my former life, and sharing information like this does not test me at all. However, when I am called upon to enter the mind of a serial killer, and to think like that monster, I am truly tested, and from that testing comes growth.
So, how about you?
Join me on my writing site
- William Holland | Helping Writers to Spread Their Wings and Fly
Tips and suggestions about writing
Do you feel you are growing as a writer?
What Are You Doing to Grow?
Yes, I do believe that simply practicing will make one a better writer, but I also firmly believe that practicing with a purpose is the only way one can master the craft of writing.
So, how are you practicing with a purpose?
Maybe all you want is to rack up some views and make some passive income. That’s great, and I really mean it. Add those capsules, share some original photographs, toss in a poll and a few links, and call it an article. Grab those extra dollars at the end of the month and buy yourself something nice with your extra income.
If your goal is a bit loftier…..if you actually want to master this craft of writing….then I suggest to you that you need to practice with a purpose.
Work on your voice. Work on your tone. Work on your rhythm and metaphors, similes and analogies. Learn how to paint those corners with your fastball, and learn how to change speeds with your curveball. Read Hemingway and Steinbeck, Lee and Shakespeare, and learn from their masterful use of the language, just as I learned about pitching from watching Kofax, Gibson, Ford and Spahn.
And when you have done all that, when you have practiced for ten-thousand hours with a purpose, then you can sit down, pat yourself on the back, and know firsthand what Gladwell was speaking about with his principle.
My hour is up. Only 1,999 more to go.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”