“Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.”
A sense of relief came over me when I read that sentence in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. This “10,000-Hour Rule,” to which he devotes an entire chapter, is one that arises repeatedly in studies of highly accomplished people. Gladwell lists a few of these: “composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you.”
Master criminals? Okay. Fiction writers? Even better! That’s what I want to be. I’m studying* to be a fiction writer, and how wonderful to discover there’s a reason why I’m not “great” at it. Not yet, anyway.
Most of my writing experience is in technical and other nonfiction writing. I am discovering that learning to write fiction is a process, one that is time-consuming to learn.
You would think the process to be a lot easier, especially when you enjoy reading fiction as much as I do. Published novels are so polished and together, and yet I know getting them into that condition requires a lot of hard work. Hours of practice seem to ensure the actual effort will be at least a little easier. This is my guess. As I said, I’m not there yet. Not even close.
“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything,” according to Daniel Levitin who is quoted by Gladwell in the book. “It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”
Another interesting discovery, not necessarily from Gladwell, is setting a timer can be more productive than just sitting down willy-nilly to write. I find that when I time myself, say 30 minutes without a break, I’m more pleased with the outcome. (Especially when I commit to not looking to see how much time is left, trusting the timer will in fact go off when time is up.) The quality of my thoughts seems somehow better, even if not everything that lands on the page is that useful. Overall, the flow of nonstop words for a set amount of time can generate ideas that you later incorporate into a larger work. I’m using this method now to practice what I’m learning in two books on writing fiction. (See below.)
I’d like to encourage you to remember the 10,000-hour rule as you write. Also, try timed writings if you haven’t already. These can be either hand-written or typed. Either way, the mini-deadline can improve your creativity and increase your output. Timing your writing also makes it easier to count the practice hours that will help you become a great writer.
Finally, if you have tips, suggestions, comments, observations, recommended practices, or anything else related to writing great fiction, you can share them below.
Good writing to us all! No, make that great writing to all who strive for that magic number.
* Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer and Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway