Practice Makes Perfect . . . or The 10,000-Hour Rule

It’s become a popular belief that it takes a person 10,000 hours of practice to master a particular craft or skill.

The concept of the 10,000-hour rule is derived from the work of psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, who studied the way people become experts in their field. Author Malcolm Gladwell brought the idea into the mainstream in his book “Outliers.”

Regardless of where the belief originated, it holds merit. Though there are exceptions–unless you’re inherently talented, no amount of guitar practice will blossom you into the next Jimi Hendrix–the 10,000-hour rule is a great place to start if you wish to master anything.

Especially writing.

Practice doesn’t just make perfect, it also makes masters. But it doesn’t guarantee them.

Case in point: I spent the majority of my teenage years as a musician. I was talented and I was dedicated. Not just fascination but obsession. I spent countless hours every single day seven days a week three-hundred sixty-five days a year playing music not because I had to but because I wanted to. I loved music because music was my ruling passion. There wasn’t an instrument you could put into my hands that I didn’t know how to play or couldn’t figure out within a few minutes of toying. Guitar, drums, harmonica, piano, violin . . . you name it and I could play it. After several of those years I could listen to any song and within less than one minute mimic finger-blurring guitar licks like I wrote them myself.

But I didn’t write them myself.

And that’s the difference.

And that’s also why my music “career” floundered into obscurity after having a few songs played on the local radio. Because I wasn’t Jimi Hendrix and no amount of practice would make me Jimi Hendrix.

Close but no cigar.

Sometimes you have to learn to give up on your dreams in order for others to blossom.

And for me they did.

The first “real thing” I wanted to be growing up was a Writer. Well, actually I wanted to be an Adventurer like Indian Jones until about age 8, but that proved to be an illogical “career” choice which earned me many scrapes and bruises while also getting me into a lot of trouble. At age 9 I decided I loved making up stories. I loved everything about their creation because I was the one creating them. I populated my fantasy worlds with whomever and whatever I could imagine, and I was the one who decided what happened when, to whom and why.

I WAS GOD!!!

Usually they ended in a bloody mess of strewn corpses with the killer getting away because I was allowed to watch anything as a kid and my preferred choice of movies was anything Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers. But my horizons broadened soon enough as I grew older and discovered comic books then novels. And from there I’ve been writing ever since . . . though I sidetracked for many of my teenage years from writing stories into writing music, but if you’re a songwriter then you already know both arts are two sides of the same musing coin.

But let’s get back to the 10,000-hour rule, shall we? And we’ll break it down into smaller chunks, too, because that’s how I prefer to approach things: with a divide & conquer strategy.

10 hours to become Familiar.

100 hours to become Proficient.

1,000 hours to become Good.

10,000 hours to become an Expert.

And these hours aren’t spent just sitting there doodling or mindlessly strumming or whatever. They are supposed to be productive hours spent actually practicing the skill of your choosing.

I point that last out because I used to write sporadically. Whenever my muse struck me because I was an artist and damn it my stories were emotional masterpieces poured onto the page through words.

Then I grew up, stopped being a pretentious douchebag and started a daily writing habit.

That was ten years ago and it proved the best decision I ever made.

I don’t have a specific number of hours per day that I write, but I do write for at least a few hours every single day, no excuses and no days off. Not only has my writing improved 10,000% but I have already clocked in those 10,000 necessary hours and then some (not including the 20 years of sporadic writing before, which I don’t; I’m 39 years old as I write this).

Such dedication has afforded me several things: One, since my writing is constantly improving on the daily I’ve become much more aware of my mistakes while writing and thus make far less of them which makes editing all the easier. And Two, I now read the work of others with an unyielding eye of scrutiny which allows me to learn while reading what not to do in my own writing.

Oh, and Three . . . my average daily word count is 5,000 words. Sometimes less if I’m rewriting scenes, ofttimes more if I’m writing new ones.

Not all 5,000 of those words are keepers, mind, but that sure goes a long way when trying to finish your next big novel.

Point being?

My years spent as a failed musician taught me two things: perseverance, and an appreciation for the journey regardless its end.

Some things in life are worth pursuing even if you’ll never master them. Because they’re fun. Because they give you that “butterfly flutter” feeling in your guts. Because they’re what you think of at night while dozing off to sleep and are the first things popping into your mind upon waking for the day.

I’m well past my 10,000 hours of writing and though I’m not a “rich & famous” author by any means I’m still writing. Every day, no excuses. Because writing is my ruling passion. It’s what drives me every waking moment. It provides me purpose and fulfillment . . . and a tiny bit of money. I may not be the next Stephen King, but damn it if I don’t go to sleep every night dreaming up new scenes to get my characters stuck up the proverbial tree and wake up every morning excited about getting those characters down by throwing rocks at them until they fall. Then comes the real pleasure of motivating them into standing back up and dusting off eager for another treacherous climb . . . because that’s what good characters do.

Gives me chills just thinking about it.

If you spend 3 hours per day writing, no breaks, it will take you just under 10 years to get in your 10,000 hours of necessary practice. After which you will know if you have mastered your craft and should continue because you love it, or if you’re better off letting your dream die and moving on to other more worthwhile pursuits in life.

And if you say you don’t have 3 measly hours per day for the next 10 years to spend finding out? Then you’ve already answered your own question as to whether or not writing is for you.

“Practice makes perfect” is not a guarantee but a motto.

Make it yours and enjoy finding out.

Happy writing!

adronjsmitley.blogspot.com

Essential plotting manual for both Plotters and Pantsers! Amazon: $6.99 paperback, $2.99 digital, or FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

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Blog for writers on everything plot, character, and story structure architecture at: adronjsmitley.blogspot.com

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Adron J. Smitley

Blog for writers on everything plot, character, and story structure architecture at: adronjsmitley.blogspot.com