Monday, October 17, 2011

The Long, Slow Slog Toward Mastery




I started reading Malcom Gladwell’s OUTLIERS this week, and I thought it would be interesting to look at the number of hours we've spent writing. Gladwell talks about how it takes around 10,000 for a person to achieve mastery, in any field. It made me curious to see where I fell on that spectrum.

One of the things that Gladwell also talks about is that any person’s success isn’t only about passion or talent or hard work. More nebulous things like opportunity and access also come into play. Looking over my numbers I see a couple of glaring advantages I’ve had. One, the luxury of having a supportive spouse with excellent health care benefits which allowed me the time to accumulate some of those hours. Also, a job that allowed me to write on the job, and thus practice my craft AND get paid for it as well.

Hours Spent Writing

1994      500 
1995      500 
1996      200 (went back to school for a year)
1997      750 (got a PT job, but one for which writing was a part of what I did)
1998      750
1999      750
2000      600
2001      600
2002      700
2003      1500 (quit to write full time)
2004      1500
2005      1500
2006      1500 (reached my first 10,000 hour mark this year! W00t!!)
2007      1500
2008      1500
2009      1500
2010      1500 (Year end total = 17,350 hours!)

So how about you? How far along are you on your first 10,000 hours of writing?

16 comments:

Becky Levine said...

Wow! I don't even know how I'd go back & track it. Which may be telling me something. A decade ago, I'd probably have told you I was already there, since I started writing when I was 10 or 12! And I'd been working on a specific book, as an adult, for quite a while.

BUT...I don't think so. And here's where maybe we get into which hours "count." Yes, all of them, except I just wasn't learning in those early years--even in my thirties. Now I would probably start counting the day I got the idea for the first book I actually finished--finished and revised. Because that, I think, is when I started really THINKING as I wrote, thinking about the pieces of the craft and the process of getting a book done, then taking it apart a few times. So, sadly, I'm guessing I'm not there yet. But I am SO working toward the 10,000!

R.L. LaFevers said...

Well Becky, I clearly guestimated for some of those years, trying to recall how many hours of actual writing I got in while the kids were in school, etc.

Gladwell talks about counting hours where we are actively pursuing improving our craft with intent. Which is why I didn't count any of the many hours I spent writing prior to 1994.

Becky Levine said...

Yes, it's the intent. I think I need to read Gladwell's book. I loved BLINK.

Liz Michalski said...

I've been writing for pay since I was about 20, and started freelancing about 12 years ago. Although I wasn't writing fiction, I was working hard on improving my writing in general -- no one wants dissatisfied clients! So I figure I've clocked 10,000 and then some.

It's funny, I wrote what could be a companion post to this piece last week, about what you give up when you are striving for excellence. We must be in mental communication!

(Love your avi, BTW.)

Kimberly Lynn said...

Wouldn’t it be great to receive a retroactive check for all those hours, Robin? LOL!

R.L. LaFevers said...

Wow, that's an excellent post, Liz! And kind of what I was going to talk about next week, so clearly we are on the same wavelength.

Becky, the book is fascinating! I highly recommend it.

LOL, Kim! I actually did that--added up all I'd earned through my writing and truthfully, the hourly rate was much higher than I anticipated. I was afraid it was going to be a dollar an hour or some horribly depressing figure. Thank heavens it was not!

Tonja said...

That's a very interesting point. When I did IT work, we did about 30 hours of actual work a week (developing databases and programs - not meetings or support). I calculated that as 6.7 years, which does sound exactly right in normal work. I probably need to put more hours into my writing. :)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I adore this book! I read Outliers, Tipping Point, and Blink all within a couple of weeks of each other.

melissadecarlo.com said...

hmmmm....man I have no idea how to count this. I'd bet I'm under even though I've written for quite awhile. I wrote for probably 8 years, then quit for 7 or 8 years and been back at it for say, 2.5 or 3.

I can say I'm better than I was, that's for sure, but perhaps not yet a master.
Someday...

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

I really have no idea how many hours I might have logged, but I don't think I've reached mastery yet, so I'm guessing I've got a few to go :)

Jess said...

My husband always talks about this part of Outliers~ secretly, I think it's to convince me that he needs to spend more time on the golf course :) I love this concept, though. It makes me see becoming a writer as a long and valuable process, and encourages me to stick with it~ to practice, practice, practice. Just like back in the good old days of apprenticeships~ nobody becomes a master blacksmith overnight and without having a few burn scars by the time they're ready to take on the big commissions :) Great post!

aquafortis said...

This was one of the main take-aways I got from OUTLIERS, too. Like Becky, though, I'm not sure how I'd be able to catalog my hours spent on writing. Not only that, if and when I reach the 10,000, I'm sure I'll still feel like I have a lot to learn. :)

Krista said...

I've asked my kids to read Outliers. Loved it!

R.L. LaFevers said...

Just for the record, I don't feel like I've reached mastery yet. I don't know that one ever does...

And for tabulating my hours, I simply guestimated the number of hours I was able to squeeze in each week back through when I started. It's not like I had an official log or anything. Although come to think of it, that wouldn't be a bad idea...

kristinwoldennitz said...

It would be tough to calculate how much time that I've spent writing, but I definitely believe that it takes a lot of time for those who aren't natural geniuses to achieve mastery. The seventh novel that I finished was the first one that I sold. I did sell a few nonfiction books and short stories during that time though.

But then there are writers like Clare Dunkle (spelling) who sell their first novel to the first editor who sees it. I think it helped that she was a librarian, of course, who had read deeply.

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

I read this post a couple weeks ago and didn't get a chance to respond, but I sat down and tried to figure out my hours over the last 20 years - just using numbers for actual writing and revising, not promotion or reading or research. It's really fascinating. I think I hit my 10,000 word mark about 3 years ago, and I'm thinking now that it's a pretty accurate number for finally getting the hang of the ole writing craft skills because that's when I finally started seeing some real success and selling my novels. Interesting, huh?