Tuesday, October 20, 2009

ten thousand hours of practice

I just finished Malcom Gladwell's latest book Outliers: The Story of Success. Good book. Challenges a lot of the ways we think about success. Obviously. (You could have read the book jacket for that nugget). But here is what stood out on the page, marquee lights blinking:

Ten thousand hours of practice.

That is what separates the good from the great. I don't think that is exactly how Gladwell put it, but that's the essence. You want to become an accomplished musician? A brilliant playwright? Computer programmer? There is a threshold to cross and you have to be willing to put in the hours and hours and hours of practice.

When I taught, I insisted on Writing Practice. In my classes, we used prompts or freewriting to get a feel for how to translate our thoughts into sentences and paragraphs on the page. I don't think very many of my students really understood why I insisted on Writing Practice notebooks. Most of them probably thought it was dumb, a waste of time. And for some of them, it might have been. But a college professor of mine got me hooked on the idea of practicing writing. In his workshop we all had LEXbooks. Language EXperiment books. And it freed me up to write whatever. It was practice.

That is how I've been looking at this whole one-year-to-write-a-book deal. It is a year of practice. I can't say that it always feels smooth. Most of my writing is bumpy. I am not making near the progress I was hoping for since much of my concentrated writing is accomplished while my daughter naps - which doubles as the quiet time I can read, sweep through the apartment, hang laundry, start dinner. I keep at it, though. Sometimes that means that I ignore the laundry or let the dishes pile for later.

So today I am thinking about my own ten thousand hours of practice and accepting that some people get theirs in before others. I'm okay with that. I take heart from another book I read recently, Julia Child's My Life in France. She learned to cook when she was thirty-seven. Or rather, she started learning all the hows of cooking when she was thirty-seven. She didn't wrap up her lessons when she was thirty-eight. So I am just shy of twenty-nine and I want to learn how to write a book. I won't be done learning how to write well when I am thirty but I will have a few more hours marked off on my ten thousand.

Monday, October 5, 2009

ready for feedback

Laine is ready to be read by a few friends. I'll be contacting people sometime this week. Looking forward to learning what this brings. It's been a long, long time since I have submitted my work to other people - or rather, it's been a long, long time since I have submitted my work to other people for their honest feedback, criticism and praise, with the intention to actually consider their ideas as relevant to my work. That's a mouthful. But it's true. It's one thing to say, "Listen to this, honey" and read a ranting essay to my husband who, of course, thinks it's hilarious because he was there and knows what I'm talking about. It's another thing to say, "Um. Please let me know what you think, even if it's terrible" to someone who has no idea why you're writing about this girl Laine in the first place.

Stephen King talks about the best readers usually being those who know you well. I thought that was interesting. Perhaps that's because your spouse, sister, and best friend will know how to delicately suggest changes. They might better know that your outer shell is full of soft spots and just saying "This doesn't work" about something you've committed at least two months to creating - well, they know better. Or they might know that's the only way you'll believe them, if they just say it. The point is, those closest to you, even if they are not writers, probably know how to approach your artist self.

In the meantime, I have another story I'm continuing to write - a road trip that could really go anywhere and I need to figure a few things out about the characters before I make too big of a mess - and another I am revising. I am not sure about writing a new and revising an old simultaneously. I don't know if it stretches me too thin to do that. With the Laine story, once I started revising, I stuck with it and didn't dip into anything else. Perhaps I should do the same with this next revision, give it the attention deserved.