Friday, February 8, 2013

10,000 Hours

At dinner, the dashingly handsome sidekick told me about a conversation he'd had with a co-worker about a concept in a book.

The co-worker explained that, in order to master something, you have to work at it diligently for 10,000 hours.

This can apply to anything in life: teaching, dance, golf, cleaning the bathtub and ... WRITING, of course!

This is so applicable to writers, I almost jumped out of my skin with excitement. Because it puts all our hard work in perspective -- why we can't just pick up a pen and write the next, great international best seller (or most of us can't, anyway ... and even if we do, it doesn't mean we mastered writing, it just means we stumbled upon some crazy good luck).

I tried to figure out how long I'd been writing. I really have no idea, of course, but I've been consistent about it over the last five/six years. And of course there were all the books I wrote as a teenager (*cough*), which have to count for something (even if they were crap). I don't have those hours logged, but in high school I regularly stayed home from hanging out with my friends so I could write. (I know. Geek alert.)

To get a handle on this, if you write every single day of the year for two hours a day, you will log your 10,000th hour in about thirteen years. THIRTEEN YEARS!

This illustrates perfectly that, even with talent, there's no replacement for butt-in-chair, good, hard work.

A quick Google search led me to this article on the National Geographic website, which describes Malcolm Gladwell's book OUTLIERS, the source of this theory. There's a really cool visual on that page, too, with graphs, which you won't want to miss. Believe me. (Plus, some tips on cheating the rule!)

So the next time you're feeling discouraged, keep plugging away, because every hour you write brings you that much closer to MASTERY.

Have you mastered something? How many hours do you estimate you've spent writing?


  1. Oh crap. I got a long way to go.


  2. Makes me wonder how long I've already put in. Lol

  3. I've read about this theory before, and it is massively encouraging. The one thing it didn't factor in, though, was the number of what I like to call "crossover hours." For example, Michelangelo was a brilliant poet as well as a sculptor and painter...but I bet with all the hours he spent analyzing, studying form, etc., that probably racked up a few hours for the writing as well. AND for us, you can't forget the hours you spend reading, thinking--and, you know, analyzing Downton Abbey. At least that's what I tell myself on days I'm tired. ;)

  4. I LOVE Malcolm Gladwell's OUTLIERS. Really interesting read. And his chapter on the 10,000-hour rule is really interesting. He attributes the success of people like Bill Gates and the Beatles to this principle. Like I said, INTERESTING.

  5. So I obviously didn't read back over/edit that last comment at all. If I had, I definitely would have cut at least one of those interestings... :)

  6. I've heard this magic number before and also for writers -- 1 million words. Makes sense to me -- practice makes perfect.

    I wish I could say I've mastered something, and perhaps science is the only thing. Parenting is still ongoing ... the kids throw a new challenge just when you get past an old one. And writing, let's see -- it's been a decade (starting with 15 min and now about 2 hours/day) so I'm getting there ...

    I need to get my hands on that book. It fell of my radar with all the others things I've been reading. So thank you for the rec.

  7. I read Outliers last year - it's a bit depressing bc there's really no substitute for good timing in the success formula. Often times successful people are just lucky.
    I've been writing steadily for a long time, including 13 years as a journalist. So I hit my 10K a while ago. *sigh*
    How about you?

  8. I've spent a good portion of my professional career teaching and training people, and I consider the 10,000 hour rule...along with the writing one million words rule, misleading. Neither of them consider the baseline, which can be dramatically variable! :)

  9. Great post, Amy.
    I apply the 10,000 hour rule all the time to my music practice, and it somehow keeps me going. I don't plan to ever be a professional musician, I just want to be good and enjoy playing regular gigs (not much, eh?!) but it's amazing how the hours, days and years clock up, and suddenly you realise you've done thousands of hours.
    Many people, writers, musicians, when interviewed refer to their "overnight" success, clarifying that they had put in many hours but the press ignore that cos it doesn't make for good headlines.
    There's a great lesson too for our children, that hard work is not to be sneezed at, and it does reap rewards, sweet rewards!

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  11. When I first started writing seriously, I went to a class with Shannon Hale, and she talked about a pottery class she took. The instructor said you needed to make at least 100 throw-aways before you'd have one worth saving. And of course she compared that to writing. At the time, I thought that was a lot, but 10,000 hours??? Wow. Next level for sure.

    (I do like Faith's crossover theory, though). :)

  12. My ballpark estimate is that I've done between two and three thousand hours, not even halfway to ten thousand. That doesn't stop me from feeling like a genius already. :)

  13. I have no idea how many hours I've put in. A lot. I'd rather use the time I'd spend figuring it out writing. ;o)

    Or reading. I keep meaning to read that book.


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