I’m A Failed Writer #11: 10,000 Hours

I intended this video to be about the way I once organized my whole submission plan for magazines. I had this fancy pants spreadsheet characterizing my every step. But a few minutes into making this video, I realized how much I have changed over the years. Now there’s a wife. There are kids. I don’t have time to fetishize the process. But it’s more than that. I also see how we writers are so compelled to obsess over the accolades we think we deserve before fully maturing our writing chops. And so this video turned into a talk about the need to write. To write a lot.

Without doing a lick of research (or even bothering to read his book), I swiped Malcolm Gladwell’s notion that it takes 10,000 hours to master a particular craft. (Don’t quote me on this!) I just love the idea of that number because it is a damn big number. And I think it is roughly true. It takes a long time for most of us mortals to get good at writing.

And so here is my not-entirely-educated take on it:

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  1. says

    I enjoyed this one because it is near and dear to me right now. I just finished a ghosting project and I was having restart issues. Thanks my friend…. By the way, I have some pretty niffty spread sheets somewhere too as well as several submission software programs both free and paid for….the end result…a text file…. (Go figure)

    • says

       @jaifarris Yeah. I have submission information using about four different programs that are all in the trash at this point :) Good luck getting back into your writing!… And yes!, I owe you an email, I’m terrible!… one of these videos soon will be about my success and failures with email!

  2. Muserella says

    Yuvi, thanks for your candor and creativity. Lots to think about. Could you talk a little bit about the nuts and bolts of how you create your videos?

  3. Oksanna says

    Ha! Must be true about 20 years/10,000 hrs.
    Feel somewhat excused, relieved  and surprisingly a  sense of motivation.
    by the way, it was nice to meet you in person!

  4. says

    This is a good one…  I think I needed to see this video about once a month the first few years I was writing. ha! I don’t know how many hours I’ve logged–but I’ve long believed that we shouldn’t despair about all the crappy writing we’ve done–we all just have a certain amount of it we have to get through before we can get to the good stuff. There’s a nice talk by Ira Glass about this same type of thing.  And, congratulations on your book! 

    • says

      Thanks, Melissa. I agree with your take about writing. And yes!!!, I just love that Ira Glass thing about storytelling… I can’t believe I didn’t reference it in my own video… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loxJ3FtCJJA

  5. Steve J says

    Yuvi, my fear about the 10,000 hours theory is this: even if continue to toil away, logging the hours and the word counts, will there be enough readers who care at the end? Does it matter if there’s no audience? I look at your submission spreadsheets as being kind of quaint. I used to make them too, hand-written in ledgers (based on ideas I took from the Writer’s Market– remember that tomb?), but I gave up logging submissions, and submitting, because it seems like nobody is interested in fiction. I feel like the entire publishing landscape has shifted from under me. To borrow a Merlin Mann analogy, what if fiction writing now is what buggy whip manufacturing was in 1908? I’m absolutely paralyzed by this right now.

    • says

      Steve: I totally hear you about your concern regarding “will anyone care?” It seems to me like the publishing marketplace is a mess right now. But I don’t think the fiction market is dead… even if the method for getting them to people is a little screwy right now. I just think we need to figure out a more effective means of getting stories to people. Maybe my goofy presentations is an experiment in this regard. The blog format itself is another experiment in storytelling. I have no idea where things will go, and I definitely have my days where I’m paralyzed myself about it, but perhaps it’s time to not only get creative about the writing itself, but the way this stuff gets out into the world… (Or at least that’s my take under the influence of a cup of tea!)

  6. says

    Thanks for this. One flicker of hope in the face of 10,000 hours: There’s a less cited passage in Outliers; it’s where the emphasis is on the quality of work, not just the hours. So whether it’s becoming a virtuoso violinist, or the next Steinbeck, be sure to have a work strategy that is based on continual improvement. The gold standard is success in the moment, and quality work that feels effortless while you create.

    • says

       @ billalpert You see? This is *exactly* why I should have actually read the book! (I promise I plan to read it soon!…) But I think you’re absolutely right. The hours alone are not enough. Quality or work and capacity for reflection are essential.

      • says

         @ billalpert Whoops.  Accidentally posted an empty field above.  I was going to mention that one of the things Gladwell touches on, but doesn’t go into very deeply, is that people who have hit the 10,000 hour mark tend to report that they find more value in actually doing their task than in the accolades they eventually receive.  I think many of us set off to find “success” in the eyes of others, but as we stick with it, we come to find that the real reward is the “effortless” feeling described.  Gladwell isn’t very interested in this idea in his book, but it is more fully explored in Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and I think it is a very encouraging way to look at things.  It also conforms to my experience somewhat (though I suspect I’m still well shy of my 10,000 hours).  Anyway, I just thought I’d piggyback on what billalpert was saying about the quality of the work being important.  In other words, you have to give your full attention to the task with regularity over a long period of time in order to most fully enjoy the highest benefits.  I think when I get too concerned with submitting or building my writer platform through networking etc., I’m not only pushing “success” further away by not practicing, I also suffer because I’m not getting that feeling I get from writing.  This may sound sort of crazy, because, as Charles Portis says in Gringos, “Writing is hard–it’s a form of punishment in school, and rightly so,” but it’s also wonderful like nothing else, and that’s at least part of the reason I do it.  Anyway, just thought I’d sort of throw that idea in to suggest another incentive to write a lot and with the proper quality of attention.  Great movies, Yuvi.  I’m going to check out the earlier ones and am looking forward to reading your book.

      • says

         @ billalpert Great insights in your comment here, David. It’s been many years, but I remember being fascinating by what I read in Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (I was also very proud of myself for having learned how to pronounce the author’s last name.)   All hours are not equivalent… really I treat the 10,000 hour concept as just a shorthand way to convey the idea that it takes a lot of work. I believe Flow talks more about the most effective state to be in, which allows each hour to really count…

      • says

        Yeah, I don’t take the 10,000 hours thing too literally either, though the magical promise of passing some concrete barrier between here and freedom is nearly irresistible to me.  I guess I was trying to take Csikszentmihalyi’s (a name I *cannot* pronounce) explanation of how certain activities like writing induce the state of flow and adding in an idea from my own experience that regular, intensive practice over a LONG period allows one to slip more easily and deeply into that state.  Like you said, writing from that state is the writing that counts the most in terms of helping us grow, but the experience of being in that place is also intrinsically worthwhile, imho.  Hope I’m not beating a dead horse here.  In any event, thinking about this has been flow inducing for me, even if I’ve been using it to to put off practicing on a WIP about my cat’s anxiety problems.  Priorities.  Murky stuff.

    • says

      The dinosaur ends up getting years of psychotherapy but then becomes famous for publishing a book called 50 Shades of Dinosaur Feces.
      Thanks so much for watching… and for picking up my booky thing!

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