Serendipity is an interesting thing. It’s when you find valuable or agreeable things that you weren’t looking for. I experienced serendipity this week, though I didn’t realize it until today.
I blogged about the need for writing practice over on Learn to Write Fiction a couple weeks ago.
There’s a theory that 10,000 hours of practice is required to become a world-class expert in anything. There are some caveats to this, of course.
You can’t just randomly do an activity for 10,000 hours and suddenly you’re an expert. The 10,000 hours have to be engaged in meaningful, deliberate practice where the person is actively trying to improve.
This week I picked up a copy of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. His book presents a theory that it isn’t just 10,000 hours that make an expert, though that is necessary. He adds that there are often instances of great opportunity in the lives of these experts-opportunities that propelled them forward toward expert status.
This makes sense in the publishing world where there are many examples of excellent writing that doesn’t get published and examples of mediocre writing that does. The opportunities that come your way are more often the result of luck than anything else. Right place, right time, right person syndrome.
Penelope Trunk blogged about time being more important toward achieving expert status than talent. We think of the talented people as being assured of expert status some day and we envy them for starting out with an advantage.
But scientists are starting to discover that it isn’t talent that assures expert status. Yes, it confers an advantage, but not a guarantee. Instead, “you need to work every single day at being great at that one thing if you want to be great.” The New York Times emphasizes the need for immediate feedback, as well..
All of this has come together in my brain this week and I think about what it means for writers. Here are my conclusions:
Having a natural talent for writing doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a best-selling author. That means there’s hope for writers who weren’t born with the writing gene.
Deliberate, focused practice is required to get really good at something. 10,000 hours is the recommended target based on studies of experts in multiple fields including sports, science, music, art, math, finance and hobbies. This means setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.
You need to really love the thing you want to be expert at, otherwise you won’t put in the 10,000 hours of hard work needed to get very good at it.
Luck still plays a large part in becoming a best-selling author. You can’t control luck or opportunities, but you can prepare yourself and your writing to be ready when luck strikes.
Do you really love writing? Enough to get up early, stay up late, skip fun activities, work every spare minute, dissect and study other novels, revise constantly, solicit critiques and incorporate the feedback, write, write more, write better?
Do you spend your writing time in deliberate, focused practice, always striving to get better?
Do you prepare yourself to be ready for publishing opportunities by meeting other writers, attending conferences, following news in the publishing industry, and submitting your best work over and over again?