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.

1 comment:

The Laughing Mouse said...

I recently heard a similar idea on the radio. But he was saying to focus on one portion of time every day and the days will always add up to 365 at the end. And I thought "IF I wrote one page of my book every day, in a year I'd have 365 pages." That's AN ENTIRE NOVEL! Be encouraged, keep at it. I can't wait to read what you publish. And I may have to go find a writing experiment journal notebook thing. Like I need to buy myself another notebook!! ;)