Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Your 10,000 Hours

Post by Jerry
Stephen King disheartened a lot of folks when, in On Writing, he declared that you couldn’t make a great writer our of a merely average writer, or something to that effect.  In King’s view, a very good writer could succeed to greatness.  A mediocre writer might ultimately produce good writing, etc.  Essentially he was saying that with lots of study, hard work, listening to others, reading great books, a writer might advance a stage or two, but not to the top of the heap.  Not unless she started well up the slope.  Having no illusions about where I was starting, those words almost made me quit.
King’s view reminds me of those signs on Interstate highways.  If phrased as “Keep Off The Median,” I love it and have taken it as a lifelong credo, an excuse to do some weird stuff. In Colorado, however, the sign reads, “Do Not Cross The Median.” Take that edict as a statement of social policy just for fun.  That means if you find yourself among the dregs of society, or even just the lower 50 percent, you are stuck there.  Suck it up, Colorado’s CDOT authorities won’t let you across that median.  Like King, who won’t let me, a struggling neophyte with no writing training and a sketchy history of prior efforts, aspire to greatness.  If I can’t at least dream the dream, why should I try?
But there is hope.  I just finished Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. In his chapter 2, titled “The 10,000-Hour Rule,” he makes a persuasive case that what made Bill Gates, the Beatles and other notable examples stand out is that they each put roughly 10,000 hours into perfecting their craft before they hit the big time. Now ten thousand hours is daunting, but it is do-able. Starting from scratch, write 3.5 hours a day, 6 days a week, and you’ll hit the magic number in about 10 years.  Is it any coincidence that nonfiction authors often say it takes about 10 years for finish a best seller?
I hear your groans, your OMGs, your “I can’t or won’t put in 10,000 hours.” OK, I’ll give you half way as a head start since most of you aren’t the raw neophyte that I once was.  How ‘bout five years? Do-able now? Look, my main point is that nobody ever said this was gonna be easy.  As with everything else, attaining excellence takes time, commitment, passion and one helluva lot of hard work. So who will join me in proving Stephen King wrong?

How many hours do you write in your typical week or month?


Lynn said...

In the 7+ years I have been practicing creative writing, it is only in looking back that I realize how little I knew. In any given moment I think I'm doing pretty well. In denial, maybe, but it keeps me from being psyched out.

At any rate, I'm in too deep now and enjoying myself too much to give up. And probably getting close to the 10,000 hour point. Still lots to learn and I'm okay with that most days. Thanks for the post.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Pish posh. What does Stephen King know? He worked hard and he made it big, but lots of other writers have made it to the bestseller list based on a unique idea and a great editor. Dream on, Jerry. Putting in that 10,000 hours is no guarantee, but your special story is.

Kerrie said...

I am with you on proving Stephen King wrong. I love Gladwell's book, Outliers, and love his philosophy much better. I think 10 years sounds about right. I took up this whole writing thing back in 1998 and I finally feel like I know what I am doing. Now, I don't know where I fit in King's spectrum (and defining whether someone is good or great is a very subjective label), but I am more confident in my abilities. I know I still have a lot to learn and I am looking forward to what lies ahead for me on this journey called writing.

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