Sunday, May 31, 2009

10,000 Hours

By Janie Kronk

Need a new perspective on what all those hours at the keyboard mean? Check out Malcom Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers.

Although this is not a book about writing, I recommend it here for two reasons:

1) It’s good. For anyone interested in “big idea” books, this will be an entertaining and informative read. Well-written and full of stories illustrating the ideas it puts forth, Outliers turns the notion of the American Dream on its head while examining why some people are successful and others are not.
2) It shows that practice is important, which can be a hard thing for a writer to remember while slogging through that first draft—or second, or third. Gladwell includes an eclectic mix of success stories, including those of Bill Gates and Mozart. What is interesting is that while the book does not deny the genius of these individuals, it does not focus on genius as a reason for success. Instead it focuses on the set of circumstances that allowed these individuals an opportunity to PRACTICE the thing they would become known for. One study described in the book separated university level music students into three groups based on skill level. What was the only thing that separated those that could go on to become world class performers from the rest? The amount of time they had practiced over the course of their lives.

So maybe practice does make perfect. What great news! At least, it’s great news as long as we can keep finding those opportunities to practice.

According to Outliers, there is even a magic number of hours of practice one must go through before becoming an “expert” (i.e. on par with Bill Gates in the computer world, or a world-class violinist in the music world), which seems to hold true in any field: 10,000. This could seem discouraging when you do the math and realize that this number corresponds to approximately three hours a day for ten years—what about our jobs? What about the kids?

But then again, how long have you already been writing? Is it necessary to be a writing expert to pen a story that is beautiful, or entertaining, or just plain good? No, it’s not necessary. That’s why we workshop. That’s why we edit.

The important thing to know is that practice makes us better, and, as long as we keep grabbing those opportunities to practice, no matter how brief, we will get better.

How close are you to your 10,000 hours?

1 comment:

Laura P. Valtorta said...

I heard about this book on NPR. Thanks, Janie. For inspiration, I always think about Anthony Trollope, who wrote Barchester Towers and many other novels. He was an uncouth postal worker who found fame as a writer. Did not quit the postal service while he was writing. Did not find fame until well after 40.