Loose Ends: The Renaissance Oaf Continues the Discussion

Well, of course, practice isn’t the only thing essential to becoming an expert.

Sean Craven takes me on in his blog.

We really don’t disagree. Here’s my response, which is also over there.

All right, Sean. I’m back.

I get the feeling that when Gladwell suggests expertise, he doesn’t mean what you do. I don’t think he analyzes talent as analogous to expertise. I think he sees expertise as a way to develop talent to genius.

Bryon and I were talking about these very things at the dinner table last night.

The first is this: diligence with nothing else doesn’t necessarily produce master craft. With my handy calculator, I figured that Bryon has been teaching science for 39,450 hours. He is a very good teacher. However, there was a physics teacher who taught for around 35 years at his school who was a dreadful teacher, and Mr. Physics, by the expertise rule, should have been a better teacher. He wasn’t. Frankly, he stank, and the kids avoided his classes.

I don’t know enough about Mr. Physics back when he was a beginning teacher, but I have seen a lot of mediocre teachers remain mediocre. I’ve seen a lot of people who want to paint, write, act, and so forth who don’t have what I would label, for want of a better word, the “it” factor. I suppose in the common lexicon, it might be called talent.

This year, I hired a new guy. I hired him because I watched him teach when he was a young pup working for us as an adjunct. At that time, he’d had about five years of teaching under his belt, but that class was eating out of his hands. He’s better now that he’s had another 4 years of teaching, but he started out pretty good.

Clearly, practice isn’t the only thing. Practice can increase your skill, your expertise, and your ability. It can’t make you a genius on its own. There isn’t that kind of relationship. I’ve always been a great teacher. I’ve been a pretty good writer. In this lifetime, I will never run marathons. I am the slowest person I know, even when I’m in shape. Even if I ran for 10,000 hours, besides needing knee surgery, I’d be no Olympian.

If you have any talent, you kind of know when something isn’t working, and you’re, in the immortal words of Ferret Steinmetz, “polishing the turd.”


Next up is the idea of the sentence. 10 years to life? I agree. Some people look at that set of hours, and instead of seeing a challenge, they see a burden. I’m totally with you. I can’t imagine spending 10K hours at something I didn’t like at all.

Like you, I’m also not sure what would constitute practicing writing. For me, I’ve decided it’s brainstorming, outlining, researching and drafting. The whole physical enchilada. I could honestly say that reading some books counts, especially if the books have made me want to write a particular thing.

So why you’d want to spend 10,000 hours on something you didn’t like is beyond my scope. That’s just weird.


As to the artistic lifestyle, well, yeah. Even if you don’t achieve what you want to achieve, and you want to create, if it gives you satisfaction and pleasure, it’s worth doing, even if you never become the World’s Greatest Author (TM).

To quote a very wise writer,

“Ten thousand hours isn’t a sentence or a guarantee. It seems to be an estimate of how much time people have spent doing something they love by the time they get noticed. And a lot of people do good, interesting work long before they clock in those hours. And a lot of people put in more effort than that without advancing. Practice is necessary, but it can only take you as far as you can go.”

Whoever said this, probably has the right of it. Wait, that was you, wasn’t it?

There are no formulas and no guarantees. All we can do is do what makes us happy, and do the best we can. I like to think that I stand a chance of achieving more with practice, because I have some talent in the first place.

However, regardless of the outcome, the time commitment means I’m giving it the best shot that I can, combining talent and practice. For me, that should make me happy. It’s also harder for me to find the energy to find the time to do the thing that I love with that full time job commitment. I find for me putting my terms into something concrete and measurable actually helps. This would be no good unless you like counting beans.

Expertise and genius and success. VERY slippery and not at all easy to dissect.

Much obliged to you for bringing these things up. Keeps my journal from sounding too self-helpy, which I definitely do not want.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

One thought on “Loose Ends: The Renaissance Oaf Continues the Discussion”

  1. One other thing you may want to add to your equation is the amount of time spent viewing the world as an author.

    When I do non-writing things, I often find myself viewing those experiences in terms of my writing. How would I describe this scene? How would I change this conversation to make it an effective dialog? How would I react to this situation if I were a character? How would I exaggerate this situation in a book to give it that “real” feeling?

    I don’t know if you can consider this practice or not, but for me, it is at least a helpful exercise.

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