The 10,000 hour rule (or Prepared for the Long Haul)

While I’ve come across advice in the writing world that pushes reluctant writers to eventually take the plunge and try submitting their work, it is far outweighed by that desperately trying to instill some sort of reality check.

I have never been one to expect I will “get good” at writing within a few months and so the reality checks I keep coming across have always made me think, “well, duh!” What I do know about myself with cast iron certainty is that I have potential that can be developed and I firmly believe that to be successful at something requires an initial seed of talent or aptitude.

But how long is it going to take to germinate that seed? What is a realistic time scale?

Many writing advice books and websites quote the figure of 10 years; it takes 10 years to hone your writing craft to the point of proficiency. Perhaps this figure is just used as a scaremongering tactic to discourage those who think writing is a quick and easy way to make money, but maybe not.

Cover art for Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (2009 paperback version)Published in 2008, the book “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell generated (or at least made popular) the idea of the 10,000 hour rule; to become successful at something requires a cumulative 10,000 hours of practice and development.

If you could devote an average of three hours a day to writing, in ten years you would pretty much hit the 10,000 hour mark. Many writers juggle full time work with their writing, especially in the early phases of their development, so perhaps there is something to both of these numbers.

Some people might see such figures as daunting, but I see it as a rite of passage, or an apprenticeship.

In the two years I’ve been writing seriously, I’ve learned a huge amount; improved my technique, gained better understanding of many aspects and discovered a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve dipped a toe in the waters of publishing and met loads of fellow writers. But I don’t kid myself that I’m even half way there yet. I’m prepared for the long haul. What about you?

4 Replies to “The 10,000 hour rule (or Prepared for the Long Haul)”

  1. I think practicing any skill is something that you can improve whether its playing a musical instrument or writing. Finding your niche is the hardest thing to do so you have to experiment but every writing project gets you closer to your goal. You learn lessons on what does and doesn’t work for you. Whilst the book mentions 10,000 hours writing, I wouldn’t necessarily say thats right. I’d say that you not only need to balance your time writing with a certain amount of reading.

    As your skills improve you’ll find things in books that you think are either clever or that you wouldn’t have done yourself. Making notes on this will help you also improve your skills.

    All in a great post , thanks Chrissey.

    1. I absolutely agree about the reading. The 10,000 hours is more about practicing and developing in every aspect, so when I say devote a certain amount of time to writing I consider that to include activities which contribute to improving your writing, including reading, networking and so on.

      It’s definitely a good tip about making notes on other books. It’s something I’m trying to do with my the book reviews I occasionally post here; use that book as a case study for a follow up post.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Hi Chrissey, and thanks for a thought provoking post. That writers need to practice and develop a wide ranging skill set to be successful goes without saying.

    The implication from the book quote is that nothing produced before ten years or ten thousand hours will be fit to see the light of day, and everything afterwards will be fine. That’s the problem I have with these generalisations and sound-bites – the central truth is watered down and may even be wrong when it is too broadly applied.

    Writers need practice. Yep, me too. But. Every writer’s skill set is different. Someone may be a gifted poet, and find in just a few weeks their work is as good as other published work they read. Their novel writing could be awful. Some take easily to novel writing. One example – Christopher Paolini. Whatever you think of his writing, and some don’t rate him that highly, what can’t be argued is that he wrote and trad. published a book when he was eighteen – and that book is as well written as some other fantasy and YA books by authors who have been writing for over ten years as adults. CP was still learning to spell ten years prior to the Eragon series’ release… Other teenagers are capable of superb quality work; some of it displaying remarkably high levels of insight and maturity. Some adults never will be.

    For me, it’s also about who you choose as your ‘gatekeeper’. Some will think they are ready only when they receive validation from an agent or publisher (not infallible). Others think they are ready when their peers give them enough positive feedback. Other’s self-assess and decide when their own work meets their quality criteria. Who ‘accurate’ these methods are is highly subjective.

    Readers also vary massively in what they consider ‘good’ (“50 Shades” anyone?). The bottom line is that readers are on a continuum of discernment and sophistication, and writers are on a continuum of talent and proficiency.

    There are no hard and fast rules. All we, as a community of writers, can do is encourage our peers toward integrity and growth, and give a little nudge in the right direction. Make sure each piece of work you do is ‘ready’, absolutely. But to carpet bomb everyone with ‘one-size-fits-all’ advice I think just muddies the waters and confuses/discourages those who are new to the game.

  3. Everyone has a different learning curve, and some writers will take longer to master – or accept – what good writing means. One thing is for sure – it’s a long road.

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