Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of perseverance is brought to you by multi-genre author C.S. Lakin.
10,000 Hours Can Feel Like 10,000 Miles
I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, Outliers, which got me thinking about the long, tedious road to publication. Although we occasionally hear of the author who gets a contract for a first novel in record time, it seems more the norm to hear of stories of authors (like me) who have been trying to get published for five, ten, even twenty years. Through research Gladwell discovered experts agreeing on the amount of time needed to bring a person to the level of an expert in his or her field. He cites examples: Bill Gates, Robert Oppenheimer, The Beatles, as some who put in the requisite 10,000 hours into their field or craft. It just seems to be a very basic rule that to become proficient in any field, you need to put in a lot of hours—which equates to a lot of years of diligent effort. There are no shortcuts or get-smart-quick ways about it. Unless you’re a prodigy or Mensa genius, you are going to have to become an expert the old-fashioned way—by hard work and persistence. In this modern age of instant gratification in which we can’t even tolerate more than five seconds for a web page to load, the idea of having to take such a long time becoming an expert in our craft is downright annoying. We want it all now—success, recognition, fulfillment.
“But Writing Is Different”
As a copyeditor, I see lots of manuscripts lacking in brilliance and writing expertise—as do literary agents and acquisition editors. Yet, I’ve come across many new writers who state that because their book was divinely inspired, perhaps even “written” by God, they can justify “bypassing” the needed amount of training and honing of their craft that perhaps an ordinary person might need. Oftentimes, when feeling the spirit of creativity moving on our imagination and heart, revealing to us words and themes and concepts, we figure all we need do is be faithful and write it all down—and voila! a masterpiece.
Funny how writing seems to fall into its own special category. If I felt called in life to be a brain surgeon, people would think me nuts to walk into a hospital, state I was “destined to become a surgeon,” and ask for a scalpel to operate on the patient on the table. In fact, should I press forward and take scalpel in hand, I would quickly be carted off by force and removed as far from that hospital as possible–to protect the patient lying on the table. I might even find myself in a nifty jacket that ties in the back, where my eager hands can’t reach the knots.
Reasonable people expect aspiring surgeons to put in the requisite hours of study, residency, supervised and assisted training to work up to being the capable doctor they hope to be. This is the same across professions—whether one hopes to practice law, build a skyscraper, or even drive a school bus full of squirrelly children. Some “careers” may not call for ten thousand hours of diligence, but Gladwell notes that to become an expert in your field, to rise above the masses, you have to put in ten thousand hours. That’s about twenty hours a week for ten years of practicing and honing your craft. We feel comforted when we hear our 747 pilot has logged in over ten thousand hours of flight time. We might not feel so at ease if we were told this was his first time behind the wheel (or stick).
“What’s Taking So Long?”
Sometimes new writers lament that they haven’t been able to sell their first manuscript after a hard year of writing and querying agents. Maybe even after even five years they ask, Why is this desired goal of publishing next to impossible? I would venture to say this: Maybe the goal feels impossible to reach because they haven’t yet put in their ten thousand hours. Sure, it can feel like walking ten thousand miles, but when you take such a lengthy trip through many lands, you grow and learn and absorb the cultures and surroundings until they become part of your soul and fill your cache of imagination to the full. We need to mature in our writing. Our writing technique and voice needs to age like a fine wine. Remember that slogan—“We serve no wine before its time”? How about: “We sell no manuscript before our writing is honed and refined”?
A few—very few—writers find “success” or publication after only a year or two of starting their journey as a writer, but that’s not the norm. Talk to most authors who have been publishing for years and you will often hear numbers thrown around: “It took me ten years to get an agent . . . twelve years to get my first publishing contract . . .” Sure, there are factors of timing, accessibility to conferences, personality, the genre you write in juxtaposed to the market needs. All these things can have a bearing on your “success.” But, rather than focus on the “success” part, I’d rather focus on the “expert” part. I don’t know if I’ve put in my ten thousand hours yet, but if not, I’m sure close. And I’d rather look ahead to the twenty-thousand-hour mark, drinking in the sights along the way–reminding myself that it’s all about the journey, not the destination.
C.S. Lakin is the author of twelve novels, including the fantasy series, “The Gates of Heaven”, with the first four books now out in stores. She also writes contemporary psychological mysteries, with her Zondervan contest winner, Someone to Blame, having been released October 2010. She works as a professional copyeditor and writing coach and loves to teach on the craft of writing.
Her new websites are dedicated to critiquing fiction (www.CritiqueMyManuscript.com) and building community to help survive and thrive in your writing life (www.LiveWriteThrive.com). Come join in! You can read more about her at www.cslakin.com.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.
The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with author, speaker and photographer Barbara Ann Derksen – the four hundred and thirty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.