You know those moments when the stars align? When the fates have you in their grasp, and are making it blatantly obvious the path you should choose? I am finding myself in that moment.
Let me set the stage.
Two weeks ago I attended an amazing conference. While there, a new friend told me what she wished someone would have told her when she was just starting out. “Don’t submit too early. Don’t be in a rush to get to success. Take your time and learn your craft. Make sure your story is really, really good before you send it out.” She suggested an incredible BOOK. I wrote it down. I thanked her for her advice.
Just hours after I returned home from the conference a book coach emailed me a highly anticipated evaluation of my YA manuscript. The book coach loved it. But there was oh-so-much work to be done. There were some cool characters, and apparently my dialogue rocks. But there were some massive plot considerations, and the in-story romances needed some serious attention. It was also about 20,000 words short for a YA fantasy. My story had a good foundation, but it needed WORK.
That evening I sat down to work, not on these changes, but my lesson plans for class the next afternoon. While in a search for a way to prove the sentiment that “practice truly does make perfect” I stumbled upon this VIDEO. In it, the you-tuber Evan Carmichael, discusses the 10,000 hour theory proposed in Malcom Gladwell’s book OUTLIERS. The theory is, that to achieve mastery level of a skill and success in a given field, you must spend 10,000 hours perfecting your craft. Gladwell uses The Beatles and Bill Gates as case studies to prove his point. Over the course of the semester I would have my students in my precious presence for a total of 108 hours. A far cry from Malcom’s requirement for mastery. In order to improve their reading and writing skills they’d need to do some work on their own.
And then, those stars I mentioned before, they lined up.
“Hey Pot, this is Kettle. Black, we are both black.”
Gottcha Kettle. Heard you loud and clear.
Maybe I could use some practice of my own.
What would happen if I kept track of the hours I spent improving my writing craft?
Reading craft books?
My time at my writing club and critique group?
How long would it take me?
10,000 hours is a long time. Over 416 days.
If I spent 8 hours a day on your craft, it would take me 3.42 years to reach the hourly goal.
Would I notice a difference in my abilities at the end of the 10,000 hours?
Would paying attention to using my time in a targeted fashion make a difference?
In all honesty, I will probably spend the rest of my life writing, in a constant pursuit of improving my skills. It isn’t the amount of time that is holding me back from buying into this plan of improvement. What is giving me pause is the consideration proposed by Evan in the video. What if hours spent with an expert counted for more than free writing? What if taking a class of targeted skill instruction was more beneficial than slugging through the revision process of honing a manuscript’s plot on my own?
Let’ say it does. Let’s say that the time spent with an expert counts double. For example, let’s look at my weekend at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference. The ten hours I spent in workshop sessions or listening to keynote presentations would really count for twenty hours. This doesn’t even count the wisdom gleaned during meal time conversations or tips and tidbits shared by professional writers at the social events. I learned exponentially more in this one weekend than I had in the entire summer.
So, I’m gonna put my money where my mouth is. I’m answering the kettle’s call and stepping up to the plate. (Apparently I’m also going to use a lot of cliche phrases in the process.) During the month of October, I am going to document my hours of practice, my hours with an expert, my hours learning, writing, reading, revising… all of it.
At the end of the month I’ll report back. I’ll let you know…
Was the process of documenting THE WORK beneficial? Was it tedious? Motivating?
Do I see a difference in my level of skill after one month of dedicated and focused practice?
Do I still think that an hour with an expert is worth double? Is it worth more? Less?
Will I continue documenting my practice time in pursuit of the mountain top view earned by 10,000 hours?
In case you’d like to chart your own hours… whether they be hours spent writing, horseback riding, cooking, yoga posing or painting… here is the chart I plan to use. Here is a link to the GOOGLE DOC which you can make a copy of and then use yourself.
If writing is the skill you’d like to improve, consider joining me in October for Story Seedlings, a one month online writing class that is part challenge, part community. You can learn more about in HERE.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this! Have you tried it before? Do you want to try it now? What skill would you like to improve? Share in the comments below!
Sidenote: I showed my student the video mentioned in this blog post, and it really made an impact. Apparently calling myself their “reading trainer” or “writing coach”, was seen has more valuable than “teacher”. After class, students actually asked questions, and wanted to complete the practice work… and have me look it over. Trainer. Coach. Not Teacher. Huh, go figure. Ah… another blog topic, or another day.