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Writers, Have You Logged In 10,000 Hours?

 I haven’t been too well these past weeks, not writing or blogging much, but I want to chat with my blog-buddies, not stay mum on the blog, especially after my first rant (against writers) in nearly 4 years of blogging!

So, I’m re-posting an old post, because I’m curious…what do we writers think about the 10,000 hours rule, and how many of us have logged in those hours?

I was reading an old Reader’s Digest Interview by Malcolm Gladwell, where he says: (emphasis mine)

An innate gift and a certain amount of intelligence are important, but what really pays is ordinary experience. Bill Gates is successful largely because he had the good fortune to attend a school that gave him the opportunity to spend an enormous amount of time programming computers-more than 10,000 hours, in fact, before he ever started his own company. He was also born at a time when that experience was extremely rare, which set him apart. The Beatles had a musical gift, but what made them the Beatles was a random invitation to play in Hamburg, Germany, where they performed live as much as five hours a night, seven days a week. That early opportunity for practice made them shine. Talented? Absolutely. But they also simply put in more hours than anyone else.

This set me thinking. Does this hold true for writing as well?

Of course, I went back and picked up his book Outliers that describes this 10,000 hour rule (which basically states that you can become an expert at anything provided you put in 10,000 hours of practice), and then did some digging on the research behind this theory (and it IS a theory, not proven fact), and found this article: What it takes to be great —

Turns out that it is not 10, 000 hours of blind slogging, it has to be ‘deliberate practice‘:

The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call “deliberate practice.” It’s activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.

For example: Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don’t get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day – that’s deliberate practice.

Consistency is crucial. As Ericsson notes, “Elite performers in many diverse domains have been found to practice, on the average, roughly the same amount every day, including weekends.”
Evidence crosses a remarkable range of fields. In a study of 20-year-old violinists by Ericsson and colleagues, the best group (judged by conservatory teachers) averaged 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over their lives; the next-best averaged 7,500 hours; and the next, 5,000. It’s the same story in surgery, insurance sales, and virtually every sport. More deliberate practice equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance.

Continuous and consistent efforts at improvement, trying to learn something new each day, new skills, setting new goals —that is what deliberate practice is all about.

I sat back and thought about how many hours of ‘deliberate practice I’ve put in over the past 3 years of writing fiction, and I think it totals up to 2000 hours, at the most (and here I’m including all the time I read books on writing, or stared off into space trying to figure out a plot hit my head on the wall on empty days!)

So, if I want to write well, I have 8000 more hours of practice ahead of me, and of course it doesn’t stop there, because even experts need to keep updating themselves!

While this is daunting, it also reassures me. Even if I have zero talent (I hope not, but there is always that possibility lol), I have hope if I put in the hours of ‘deliberate practice’.

Have you finished your 10,000 hours? Do you think the theory makes sense?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Tina says:

    While I certainly agree that deliberate practice produces experts in that particular field, I don't think that's "all" it takes. Lots and lots of really great writers go unpublished because they never caught that break of having an "in", whether with an agent or a publisher. There's so much competition out there. However, aiming to practice for many hours can't do any harm, since practice does make perfect. I'm just saying that's not ALL it takes.
    P.S I'm on the AZ team, thought I'd come by and see what your blog is like. I like.
    Tina @ Life is Good

  • I wish I'd kept score.

  • Stuart Nager says:

    I think putting any limit or minimum or whatever is a crazy maker. I write as much as my itty bitty brain will allow me, and when it goes "fritzfizzlesputter…" it is time to stop.

    I have no idea how much time I put it, or will put in. Maybe that's something for a blogfest: Timing Blogfest. A computer timer: ding in and out, end of month, time, not verbiage.

  • westcobich says:

    I've not logged my hours but might play with the numbers as I untangle these Christmas lights!!!!!

    I do believe in practice, daily, rigorous, sometimes just the physical act even if the mental engagement isn't there. It's a great thing.
    There are results.

    and you made me laugh (in a good way) about your rant on writers! that wasn't so awful or rant-y. And I understand what inspired it. The whole publishing thing is so beyond writing anymore. It's turned people (writers) on their heads with "marketing."

    Actually I find many people rush through the writing to get to the hawking. Ah, but then there's my own personal rant which I won't go into here.

    Keep writing. Whatever it is. Every bit doesn't have to be good. It just has to be, and will therefore push you forward.

    I really enjoyed these posts!!!!

  • M Pax says:

    As long as we strive to improve — I always do — I think we'll end up finding our way. Sometimes I find the process frustrating, but keep with it.

  • Nicole says:

    If my years in school, writing term papers and such counts toward that number, then yes, I've probably put in maybe half of that but then even if my school time is added to me adult years, it still likely wouldn't crack the 10,000 hours mark…because how can I measure that?

    I don't remember how many hours I spend writing in one month, let alone a year. I can only estimate, which is not an accurate way to measure how much time I put in, since I often multitask.

    I think it makes sense in theory, but probably not in practice. Then again, if someone baked the same cake over and over again for a few years, he or she would eventually become an expert in that particular flavor or style of cake because the person would know what makes it sink, what makes it bigger, what makes it dense, what makes the icing stick or melt, etc. so maybe it does make sense in practice. I don't know. I'd rather find someone who has what I want, in the field that I want it in and then ask that person how to get it…..something like this could only take one hour, during a lunch or telephone conversation….but it's the practice that is key, so maybe there is something to what this 10,000 hours guy is saying.

    What do I know, though? lol.

    The Madlab Post

  • I'm around three quarters of the way there. but not so much with the serious practice thing. I just fuddle on doing my own thing. Hoorah.

  • Thanks for this great post!! I mentioned it in my link roundup today 🙂

  • Funny you should post this as I was in the planning stage for a 10,000 hour post myself.

    I have absolutely no idea how much "serious practice" I've really put in over the last couple years, but as of last week I've started to keep track, just so I could see how I'm chipping into that number. We'll see how that all works out in about 20 years 🙂

  • 10,000 hours of deliberate practice?? My goodness!! I never went beyond a thousand hours I guess!!

    we are holding a writing challenge… Kindly consider participating
    Another Author

  • bjames says:

    As an educator and coach I have worked with some of the best students and athletes around and I have seen the 10,000 hours come to fruition. My wife is a very talented distance runner who at about 10,000 hours of training made a huge breakthrough in performance. I went back and looked at training records and it was dead on. As a teacher I saw it in my own career as well. It is a magic number. In writing I can imagine that talent can be developed the same way. The key is that there must be a talent to develop or you will only develop bad habits. The key in all of it is deliberate practice with good abilities. The old diamond I. The rough!

  • I must be getting close to my 10,000 hours I think… but I really couldn't say. It was 1997 at the latest when I started really looking at my work and assessing how to improve it. 10,000 hours divided by 14 years averages out to around 700 hours a year. I've done at least 600 just in the last 8 months.

    And if we don't specifically mean creative writing, just writing, I've definitely done my 10,000, cause I write for a living as a lawyer. There are differences between legal writing and creative writing but there is also some overlap where skills apply equally to both. 40 hours a week for 8 years = approx 15000 hours (accounting for holidays).

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