Rethinking learning how to write, I’ve decided to seriously practice, so I can get to Carnegie Hall.
The expertise literature is old news. Malcolm Gladwell‘s book Outliers suggests that “greatness requires enormous time.” A constant theme in the book is Anders Ericsson’s theory that in order to be an expert, one must spend around 10,000 hours practicing in an area. For example, the Beatles performed over 1200 times in Hamburg from 1960 to 1964. That kind of practice changes art.
In our own genre, Jay Lake is an example of this. Jay was a story-writing, rejection-receiving machine, until ultimately his expertise caught up with his output.
There are other factors that we commonly believe help us succeed. The public thinks “our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work” are among these, although Gladwell remains skeptical. I think they probably do play a role, although they are no substitute for expertise. Gladwell also continues to question about whether environment plays a part.
I’ve been thinking about my writing. As a writer who didn’t buckle down until later life, I realize that I have quite a long way to go before I reach those expert hours. In order to invest 10,00 hours in my writing, I’d have to spend 20 hours a week writing for 10 years. (520 weeks X 20 hours = 10400). That’s an ambitious schedule. I probably don’t have quite that many hours to go. Even the hours from when I hadn’t buckled down count.
I’m about to do some math. You can skip to the bottom of the math, and get to the point. Here we go.
The books I wrote in my childhood? They count, even though they are hardly expert. Let’s give that time of writing about 500 hours (three books of terribly stinky quality from the ages of 12-18).
No writing time as an undergraduate. As an MA candidate, a lot for one year. I’d say we came close to 1000 during that experience.
After I started my teaching job, I wrote two books. I’m going to give myself another 500 hours for those books.
And then, after the PhD, there was the fan fiction period from 2002-2004. I’ll easily give myself 1000 for that, as well as the ideas for the Klarion series.
In 2007, I began to pursue writing more seriously. For these 3 years, I’ll keep the estimate to another 1000.
That’s 4000 hours. I need about 6000 hours to go. That means I need to write for about 20 hours a week for six more years in order to get myself up to speed. Looking realistically at my life, I’m not seeing that as possible. For pockets of time I could do this, but not overall.
How about setting the goal of expertise for 10 years from now, when I retire? That’s a more realistic 12 hours a week. Can I find 12 hours a week to write for the next ten years? I think I can. It’d vary from week to week, but I think I could schedule that. And still work out, have a social life, and have time to do other things.
Right. That’s the math. And that’s the New Year’s Resolution. To write 12 hours each week until I am able to write MORE per week.
Why focus on time?
1. Focusing on word output always makes me feel backwards while I’m revising.
2. Research time, carving out time lines and outlines count, but don’t in word count.
3. Word count focus puts the emphasis on the artifact, rather than the creator. I’m the one getting the training!
How about the rest of you? Are you willing to make some sort of time commitment (weekly, daily) to improve your art? It seems like a great idea for a resolution.