Friday, July 20, 2012

Writing Toward Excellence: The Ten Thousand Hour Rule By Dorothy Love


How many times has someone mentioned to you that they’d like to write a book—or that they have a great idea for a book? I’ve heard those statements, or similar ones, more than once. Sometimes people come across as thinking it’s not that difficult to write and get published. And if you haven’t succeeded, what’s wrong? Those of us who have been writing for awhile know how much work it actually takes to get even close to being “good” at it. Or do we? Today, author Dorothy Love shares interesting and encouraging information. ~ Dawn


Writing Toward Excellence: 
The Ten Thousand Hour Rule

By Dorothy Love

You’re discouraged. Contest judges, agents and editors are less than enthusiastic about your most recent effort.  Maybe time constraints are weighing you down. A second job eats up most of your productive hours. Kids must be driven to and fro. A parent gets sick and suddenly you’re a caregiver. Off and on for years, you’ve worked on a novel. Or many novels. Or a nonfiction book you’re dying to publish. You despair of ever landing that first contract , or you’re worrying that your first books won’t be good enough to land you a second one. You wonder whether you should give up.

Here’s my question: How many hours, total, have you devoted to your writing?  Five hundred? A thousand? Five thousand?

In his fascinating book, Outliers The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell  describes a study conducted at the Berlin Academy of Music. With the advice of the academy’s professors, a team of psychologists divided the school’s violinists into three groups. In the first group were the excellent musicians, the so-called “stars.” In the second group were those judged to be “good.”  The third group comprised of students with the least potential to ever play professionally.  All of them had begun playing at around five years of age, and for the first few years, all of them practiced for two or three hours a week. But beginning at around age eight, the students who would end up in the “excellent” group began practicing more than anyone else: six hours a week by age 9, eight hours a week by age 12, sixteen hours a week by age 14, until at age 20, they were playing and practicing over 30 hours a week.  By the age of 20, the “stars” had totaled ten thousand hours of practice, in contrast to the “good” players who had amassed eight thousand hours, while those in the bottom group had practiced a total of around four thousand hours. 

Studies of basketball players, chess players, master criminals, and yes, fiction writers yielded similar results.  Neurologist Daniel Levitin: “… ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world class expert—in anything. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”

What can writers learn from this?

To move from average to good to excellent, you must write with intent, with an inclination of spirit and soul, with an eagerness to work and to improve.  Secondly, be patient. Unless you have a trust fund that allows you to write to the exclusion of all else, it will take a very long time to get to the ten thousand hour mark. But every hour that you are writing or revising counts toward that goal of excellence.  Don’t quit before you get there. 

How many hours have you practiced so far? How many hours did you practice today?



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Award winning author Dorothy Love is the author of sixteen novels for preteens, young adults and adults. After a long career in the general market, in 2009 she moved to Thomas Nelson to write Southern historical fiction. Her popular Hickory Ridge series winds up this November with publication of EVERY PERFECT GIFT.  Currently she’s working on a new historical novel set in the South Carolina Lowcountry, set for publication in 2013.

To find out more about Dorothy and her books, please visit:

twitter: WriterDorothy  

1 comment:

  1. I've heard about 10,000 hours but never really considered how many hours I'm devoting to writing each week. Maybe I needed to hear it a few more times to really believe it. It'll be interesting to track. I guess I know what I'll be working on this weekend...Thanks Dorothy!

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