How do you make a genius? In his book Outliers: The Story of Success Malcolm Gladwell suggested that talent isn’t the decider but how many hours of practice you’re prepared to put into your chosen subject. In the above visualisation of Gladwell’s 10,000 hour principle the work of Bill Gates and The Beatles are used as an example of the successful ‘in action’.
Gladwell’s work was apparently based on the research of psychologist Anders Ericsson of Florida State University. However, as some have noted, Ericsson never mentioned 10,000 hours and it’s important to remember that there’s more to attaining success than simply ‘putting in the hours’. The key therefore is not merely to repeat an action but to learn from it and build on it.
It has also been suggested that, where writers are concerned, the number of words are vital. “A writer’s apprenticeship usually involves writing a million words (which are then discarded) before he’s almost ready to begin. That takes a while.” ~David Eddings. Again, you should reasonably expect to have the majority of your early writing rejected (rejection slips can be seen as the ‘jogger’s nipple’ of the writing world after all), but this doesn’t explain how some writers achieve success relatively quickly, much sooner than any million words tide-mark, whilst others can labour for many years producing millions of words without gaining any satisfying results.
Conditions for Successful Practice
Instead of focusing on the amount of hours needed to cultivate success think about the following 4 conditions to improve performance (Mastery teaching, M. Hunter, 2004):
1. The learner must be sufficiently motivated. They must want to improve performance.
2. The learner must have all the knowledge necessary to understand the different ways the new knowledge or skill can be applied.
3. The learner must understand how to apply the knowledge to deal with a particular situation.
4. The learner must be able to analyse the results of their study and know what needs to be changed to improve performance in the future.
In summary: Stay motivated, read up on the subject, think actively about what you’ve read and analyse personal progress. So forget the number of hours involved, don’t give another thought to wasted word counts, just get on with engaging in the process of learning your craft. Remember that ‘every step taken is a step well-lived’. All of which leads us to consider that, as writers, while we may spend many hours writing it is vital to stay open to advice, to read widely, and to edit thoroughly.