Malcolm Gladwell on “The 10,000-Hour Rule” in OUTLIERS: THE STORY OF SUCCESS

I just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s OUTLIERS: THE STORY OF SUCCESS after buying it few days ago.  I’d intended to just read a chapter a week, but instead I raced through it, unwilling to stop.  There were so many “Aha!” moments that I had to keep on going until I finished the entire thing.

For this post, I’m just going to focus on a chapter critical to new writers, Chapter 2, “The 10,000-Hour Rule.”   This chapter clarified something that I’ve been noticing subconsciously in the successful fiction writers I’ve been met over the past few years.  And by successful I mean fiction writers with over 15+ years of being published, who make a living at their fiction writing.   It also ties in with Bradbury’s advice in ZEN AND THE ART OF WRITING about writing 1,000-2,000 words/day.

Here’s what I consider a critical quote to consider:

The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals,” musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did.  Nor could they find any “grinds,” people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks.  Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works.”

When I read this paragraph, I got excited.   It means that even if I never sell what I’m currently working on (or the past works I wrote), the experience counts.    It’s not wasted effort–as long as I set a goal with each piece to practice a writing skill like setting, characterization, POV, plot, etc.

Another key point:

…researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise:  ten thousand hours.

This ties in with Bradbury (and other writers’ ) urging to practice 1,000-2,000 words/day, six-seven days a week.   Like any other art form, there are hours of practice to be put in to get adept at fiction writing.

So to rack up those hours, if one worked 20 hour/week for 50 weeks a year, one would hit 10,000 hours in 10 years.

Feeling restless?  Then go up to 30 hour/week for 50 weeks a year, and one hits 10,000 hours in about 6.7 years.

And so 40 hour/week for 50 weeks a year will get one to 10,000 hours in 5 years.

Crunching these numbers explained to me why I’ve felt driven (to the point of obsession) lately to free up more writing time.  I didn’t know about the 10,000-hour rule, but I knew I wanted to devote more time to writing each day.   Now I know what’s fueling this driven itchy feeling I get when I don’t get my daily writing time in.

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