In the November 24, 2008 issue of Time Magazine … which I’m feeling uber-smug for having already finished … there’s an article about Malcolm Gladwell. He’s a brainiac who has written his third book, OUTLIERS, which Time describes as, “a frontal assault on the great American myth of the self-made man.” It’s a book about exceptional people who “operate at the extreme outer edge of what is statistically possible.”
He’s a remarkable man and the book sounds like a good read. But I was stopped short when I read about Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule. He says the key to success in any field takes simple practice, 10,000 hours of it … 20 hours a week for ten years, regardless of talent.
I read that paragraph three times because I’ve heard for many years — since I’ve become serious about writing — that only those who persevere will have a career as an author. I’ve heard a million stories, give or take 200,000, about authors who took ten years to become ‘overnight successes’ because that’s the industry average. I know mediocre writers who are quite successful. Why? Because they don’t quit and they learn everything there is to know about the publishing industry. And I know excellent, make-your-heart-leap-into-your-throat writers who will never get published. Why? Because they give up or refuse to learn about the industry.
I also read recently, in the December issue of The Writer magazine, (again, feeling smug to be current in my reading) about William McGonagall (1825-1902), the world’s worst poet, whose “confidence far surpassed his talent.” Chuck Leddy, the author of the article, maintains that “to persist in the face of hurled insults and howling laughter, is a unique sort of genius that remains worthy of celebration.” I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, if I had my Wayback Machine all lubed and oiled, I’d buy Mr. McG a Guinness.
Mr. McGonagall obviously dangled his legs off the cliff of talent, but it’s clear he put in his 10,000 hours. After all, it’s 2008 and he’s still the subject of magazine articles. There are studies documenting Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule … it’s not just anecdotal, trying to make us feel better about trying to be published authors for all these years.
So I started looking at my timeline. I’ve been serious about writing … and let’s define that using Gladwell’s scale by saying it’s conscientious writing 20 hours a week … since about October 1999, to the best of my recollection. I never seem to do any writing on weekends, so twenty hours a week is four hours per day. If we count reading craft books, reading in our genre, critiquing others’ manuscripts, participating in critique groups, attending conferences, workshops and lectures … well, golly! I’m overdo for my breakout novel because I’ve put in more than 10,000 hours. And I really hope that “regardless of talent” piece is true.
But if the ten year thing has to be part of the equation, then I only have another year to strengthen my book signing hand!
Ready when you are, Universe!
Are you close to 10,000 hours of practicing something to fulfill your dream? If you could do anything in the world, what would you want to spend 10,000 hours practicing? (And I know that leaves me absolutely open to all kinds of funny, possibly obscene, answers, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take! Let ‘em rip ….)