I was just reading a book, Outliers, which makes a number of points about success. A lot of it is extraordinarily depressing---when and where you were born, even what time of year, has more of an effect than people might thing, for instance. Also there's some analysis about IQ and its relative unimportance. But one chapter, "The 10,000-Hour Rule," provided some hope.
Seems a lot of people who were successful put in a lot of hours in the field they were successful in. Computer billionaires...the Beatles...hockey players...all of them spent a lot of time working at it and it paid off. Eight hours a day, for years at a time, adds up to a lot of hours.
Ten thousand hours was usually cited---and now I'm back to depressed again, 'cause, despite my interest, I'm sure the aggregate total of all the hours I've put in at writing over the years doesn't come close to that amount.
I never had that kind of time to spare---first, school, then, later, the need to make a living. Even if I had had the time, I might not have been able to make use of it. Usually I run out of steam if I'm constantly at it---after maybe an hour I just can't bring myself to write anymore, usually, no matter how I feel about the story.
Is this why I haven't had any luck at it?
How about you guys? How much time do you put into writing? And do you think the time you put into it has much effect on your ability and skill at writing?
It sounds like you are trying to label success to me. Success can be described in many ways.
The real question is...do you enjoy writing? Does it make you happy to create universes that exist solely in your mind? Do you love it when a particular plot twist presents itself to you when you least think it will?
Sure, it would be infinitely wonderful if people paid you to do what you like to do. It would be a really great thing for that to happen. However, is that necessary for success.
My take on it is simple. My dad always said to never worry about that which you could not affect. I will write. I will enjoy myself. I will submit the stories to you guys/gals and seek your advice. I will send them in to editors all over.
Everything else is out of my hands. That editor might take my story. That car may not stop. That missile might hit its mark.
Be thankful for the imagination you were gifted with and create your worlds. Make the people in them live. Let them entertain you and us and I guarantee...when you stop worrying about it...amazing things start happening.
Ten thousand hours, a million words, one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration, in purely statistical odds a one in ten thousand chance of story placement, a lifetime of disappointment.
To succeed, do this, don't do that, unless it's good for the story, then no holds barred.
The secret is there's no secret.
You can't get there from here.
Established authors are only as good as the last story they published; emerging writers are as good as the next story they're writing.
So what is the answer? If there's one, it's attitude, perserverance, and dedication, and one more intangible element, knowing what readers want before they do. That's the one intangible that can't be learned. We're born with an innate storytelling talent, nurturing it is paramount.
The audience is fickle and wanting a better story than the last one. What's already been done, is done. Blazing new territory is following a well-beaten path at a different angle but in a conventional manner.
So what does it take to write a placeable story? A sufficiently conventional story to fit in with readers' comfort zones, yet sufficiently original to stand above the other ten thousand vying for the same slot.
What fits readers' comfort zones, a relevant, coherent, logically, conventionally, porportionately plotted story with good resonance appealing to readers (sympathy and suspense), an opening that promises a good story, dramatic, emotional, and imaginative premises of sufficient magnitude to stimulate readers emotions, potent antagonism (purpose and problems) forces leaning toward uncertain outcomes with setbacks in every dramtatic unit up to the climax, a complete reversal of fortune, and a satisfying resolution accommodating the reversal of fortune.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited February 10, 2009).]
Well, I know I've got well over a million words on file, so if I've averaged 100 words per hour then I've exceeded the 10,000 hours. When I write I usually get close to 1,000 wph in spells but when you consider all the rewriting and planning time it wouldn't surprise me in the least to have spent that long and more (and that's just talking about the last 20 years or so in which I have been taking writing seriously).
It remains my belief that you need some combination of the following: Talent Persistence Luck
Missing out on any one of those will really dent your chances of publication. Many people mistake being prolific for perseverance - I know people who only write two or three stories a year but get consistent pro sales, and I know of people who are less productive than that. Sadly, many people also mistake a lack of talent for a lack of luck.
Persistence alone will not win out. Talent alone will not win out. Luck will not compensate for lack of talent, no matter how many published books you read and say "I could do better!". And persistence is what you need to bull through those "1 in 10,000" odds. I sell stories on around 1 in 8 submissions, now (though much lower if you take pro rate submissions only into account). The odds are raw and can be manipulated - IF you have the talent, the persistence, and the luck.
I think theres talent in that some people can take to something very well very quickly. But ability is the end result, and ability can be developed through practice and observation.
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I don't read those books. Even controlled statistics have nothing authoritative to say to an individual. Yes more people lose the race than get first place, but there are any number of races to participate in. Change your motivations, run for the love of running, write for the love of writing, and--by so loosening-- you might (ironically) improve your chances of winning the original race.
That's my view anyway. But then again, I hate to be depressed.
HA! I'm reading that book too, and I found some calm in the idea that, even if my natural talent is small, that I can improve through practice.
To clarify the book's message, it says that, all other things being equal in talent, those who practice will have the most success. It gives lots of case examples, and does not ignore the factors of luck or persistence in the least. Or how much you love something.
So, given that 'all other things equal', I kind of agree with the book, even if I'm not certain about the 10,000 hours limit. I wouldn't stress about reaching it either. But, I have found that (before reading this book), my nightly writing hours have been crucial for increased quality and success in my writing. But then, it's different for everyone.
My goal is three hours a night. I don't always make it; it's too easy to get distracted. I know it sounds like a lot, but I'm single, a grad student, and without children. So I'll put my hours in now, before life interferes.
I've never cared for putting an hour or word expectation on success. It's misleading and depressing to me. I think, in general, you can expect that the longer you're writing and actively trying to improve, the better you'll get at it, but putting specific numbers on it as though I can expect success if only I put as much time/words into it as possible doesn't make sense to me. I think the "All other things equal" is where it breaks for me. Because all other things aren't equal, in any situation.
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One of the points in Outliers is that factors beyond hard work and talent also influence success. Computer programmers / billionaires come up in several chapters. All were born within a short few years in the 1950s...all came of age as certain technological advances in the field were made...and all were at various places that acquired this advanced technology and didn't mind if they used it.
I've occasionally thought that if I had been born earlier I could have sold something in the much-larger market for SF in magazines in the 1940s and 1950s...this may kind of be proof of it. The magazines, which I concentrated on, have been considered a dying field since before I entered it, with less spots open for newcomers than before.
I beleive the more time you put in the better you get. I know it has with me. The first stuff I wrote was really bad. After about a year or so of writing I know I've gotten better. I hope I'm to at least bad, if not okay. Someday I'll get to good. The important thing to me is that I know I'm getting better. If I live long enough, maybe I'll get to great.
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BUT you'd have further problems with arthritus, wrinkless, hair and memory loss, etc. Go climb a mountain and be glad you're not old enough to be dead, yet.
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I think the book has some appeal to me because a lot of it plays into my preexisting notions: that the game is already decided before I make my move and maybe I might as well not bother.
There's a footnote in the book, discussing Ivy League college admission policies. In 2008, Harvard got 27,462 applicants, of which 2500 made an 800 on the SAT (reading) and another 3500 were perfect on SAT (math), as well as another 3300 who were first in their high school class. Harvard accepted about 1600 of these. So, however they're admitting students, it can't be on academic merit alone.
I wonder sometimes if some SF writers get ahead and get published because they know someone. I've never mixed much in the SF social circuit---I've never been to a convention, for example, and don't expect to---but I wonder if somebody who does, and meets and is known to editors, might get a more favorable read on a story than somebody who isn't. (In the days when I wrote letters-to-the-editor, I think I got a more favorable response in my rejections than later, after I stopped writing letters, at least from a couple markets. And the stories weren't as good as the ones I write now.)
Some more thoughts on this. 10,000 hours is about the equivalent of working five years full-time at a 40 hour/wk job. That's really not a whole lot, if you think about it. Many, many people have achieved that in some endeavor without distinguishing themselves as an outlier. However, it might not be a bad rule-of-thumb for reaching competence. In my professional life, coincidentally enough, it was at about five years when I began to get the reputation of being dependable.
As far as writing goes, I can only attribute my lack of fame and fortune to one person: myself. It isn't always easy to admit, but I'm just not that good yet. I haven't put in the time, at minimum. I'll leave the "talent" factor out, don't know what bearing it has. I do think I have the ability. The question is whether I'll make the sacrifices to foster the ability.
Things like timing and luck and connections certainly can be a boon in the right circumstances, but I am convinced that every writer that has achieved sustained success has put in the time, and continues to do so. The most consistent advice we see on writing is to write and write and write.
Second to that, I would argue, is developing the ability to make (and accept) honest assessments of our work. I often mentor young people in my profession, and the ones who essentially get nowhere career-wise are those who bristle at, and disagree with, criticism. Those with a combination of determination and humility almost invariably excel.
There's no magic formula for success, but there's no avoiding the work either. Exceptionally good and well-told stories will eventually find their way out to the world. That I believe.
The other is form an economic perspective. The market just might not be demanding the kinds of stories you or I tell. But that doesn't mean we can't share them with others and write for self-satisfaction. And perhaps tastes will change.
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I don't think their can be a mandate or curriculum which determines our success. 10,000 hours, hmmm I did that in two years as a chef. At the end of two years I was in no way a master or even close.
Not to say that I never made it, after about ten years I was beginning to run out of people to learn from and had to begin pushing myself to learn from myself and my ability to innovate.
But I think success or mastery comes from within. If you have the ambition and dedication to really learn your craft, the self discipline to push yourself further than those around you, then you can excell at a much higher rate.
Look for lessons in everything you do. Read. I think reading is something most forget when writing. Submerge yourself in the writing experience.
I don't think that there is any real guarantee that writing for ten thousand hours could even ensure one gets published if their head and heart isn't really in it. Go forth with confidence, humility, and gusto and maybe it can be done in five thousand
Well, it took me about three years to master all I had to do up till then at the post office. (They keep changing things around but, since I've laid the foundation, it takes me under six months to master any major changes, like a new machine to operate.) I think, over a longer stretch of years, I've put in a comparable amount of effort into writing---without payoff.
I believe I became a good writer---I'm sure I have, at least as good as some of what I see published---but without sales or encouragement, I wonder what the point is, and worry about my skills eroding.
Look at Philip K. Dick. His children recieved the bounty of his writing efforts because he didn't acheive success until long after he was gone. This is a tough proffoesion to measure success.
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quote:I wonder sometimes if some SF writers get ahead and get published because they know someone. I've never mixed much in the SF social circuit---I've never been to a convention, for example, and don't expect to---but I wonder if somebody who does, and meets and is known to editors, might get a more favorable read on a story than somebody who isn't.
Networking can always help, in any career. It probably comes split under two of my headings of the necessary triumvirate - luck (in meeting the right people at the right time) and persistence (in being prepared to keep doing whatever it takes).
But it certainly isn't necessary. I've never met an editor in person, nor indeed any of the other writers in my "peer group" here and elsewhere. I don't correspond with anyone on a regular basis (though I do blog). And I sell stories. Not as many as I'd like, but who does?
I don't buy that 10,000-hour rule. It's all about the effort you put into it, not the time. I don't know how much time I've invested into writing because I don't check. If you keep score on the time, you are not having fun and therefore not progressing. Simple as that.
It's not the time that gives you wisdom. Not all old people are wise. It's the experience and you can get that in lesser time than some people.
In my writing group we have members from all walks of life, most of us over 35, and just recently we have had a 23 year old writer join our ranks. She is only 20,000 hours old and yet we are all in awe of her raw talent. I think we can all find exceptions to any rule that we may be given, but that doesn't mean we don't need to keep writing. Practice practice practice is the answer; you know the question.
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I get 200,618---figuring the years at 365.25 to accomodate leap years. Further exactitude will require a precise date of birth, maybe down to the second...
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In something as subjective as writing, objective predictors are fairly useless. I mean, perhaps these people are simply noticed after working for 10,000 hours on this one thing. Maybe they've had successes before that time, but simply didn't consider it to be the type of success they're looking for.
Now, its obvious that you need to work hard to be successful at anything. I just don't think you're going to get anywhere by putting a stop watch next to your computer...
I agree strongly with what tchernabyelo wrote. Another way to look at it is that there are probably very few highly successful writers who haven't invested at least 10,000 hours (or penned a million words).
I don't think anyone in the thread has suggested 10,000 hours is a magic recipe for success. Art or not, I think the 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration maxim holds.