Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers posits that successful people spend at least 10,000 hours working on their chosen craft, art or profession before becoming skilled enough to enjoy success.
Slate.com recently ran an article on how the 10,000 hours rule applies to writing, too. Cookies for anyone who can find the original link. Yes, some of us have a natural talent for writing. All the same, even the “naturals” have to log serious time in developing an understanding of the craft as a discipline. In the case of writing, and in this context, discipline is defined as “daily practice that leads to a project’s completion.” This is not the “discipline” of “I was good on my diet.” This is discipline along the lines of what it takes to get multiple black belts in a martial art.
When I measure my own career against this rule, I come up with yes, I fulfilled it and no, I haven’t – at the same time.. Technically, I have more than surpassed the requirement. I started publishing political editorials at age 16, I majored in writing at Lakeland and in mass communications at Mankato State, and while I didn’t finish graduate school, my attempted MFA was in creative writing. Throughout the latter half of my undergrad, in between my undergrad and graduate school, I also wrote for Llewellyn and picked up freelance work where I could.
If you put every hour I’ve spent putting together the written word, I easily surpass 10,000 hours.
Yes, there’s always a but.
Writing, like the aforementioned martial arts, has different styles and disciplines. Blogging differs from print news writing. Poetry differs from prose. Fiction differs from nonfiction.
I’m not sure I’ve actually passed the 10,000 hours rule in any ONE area of writing. While I love eclecticism – or I have trouble with singular commitment, your pick – I think I may see why my career does not quite have the recognition I would like to have at my age.
I definitely have not logged 10,000 hours in poetry. I quit taking poetry classes after my dentist commented that I seemed to have started grinding my teeth. (It wasn’t the poetry, it was the damned graduate school poets. The only good one would never read her stuff out loud.)
I definitely haven’t logged 10,000 hours in news and political writing. I may have clocked around 1000 hours, most of it during the Clinton administration.
I guess I have logged about 8,000 hours in nonfiction prose – I get the sense that the book Divorcing a Real Witch is my journeyman’s piece, the book that will take me across that final line .
I may have logged around 4500 hours in ritual writing – I consider this separate from poetry.
I think I’ve logged under 10,000 hours in blogging, but I’m very close to the line on that one, especially because Fat Chic used to take up stretches of hours every day.
While I’ve written plenty of words in my lifetime, the words I’ve written in specific forms have yet to cross the line to mastery. I know from my careful work in the Artist’s Way that I can’t just make myself get it all done at once, I have to take time on establishing those hours.
This doesn’t make me feel that bad. Yes, I should have been working on my own projects and not just classwork while in college, but my circumstances required me to work whatever jobs I could and often this crimped into that time. Even then, creative energy had limited flow, and I was very busy unlearning childhood lessons so I could be a functioning and safe adult.
In truth, I find the 10,000 hour rule helpful. For me it’s an “Oh, so that’s what’s going on!” when it comes to recognition, accomplishment, and finishing my projects. I just need to log more hours. It makes my noodling at keyboard and notebook much more important. It gives me a sense of validation.
Sure, I am a late bloomer – and in this case, “late bloomer” means “aging awesomely.”