I’ve been reading / listening to a book called “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a non-fiction, pop-sociology-type book that seeks to explain the success of successful people through analysis of pre-conditions in environment such as timely access to resources, opportunity, and instruction. The point of the book — so far at least, as I’m only a couple chapters along — is that success is rarely due to innate characteristics (or because of what one might call ‘nature’) but rather that it is the result largely of nurture and the correct and opportune opportunity for the right kind of nurture. There have been a few interesting arguments in the book so far, and I’ll reserve judgment for when I’ve finished it, but I wanted to mention one of the original reasons I picked the book up in the first place. CBC had done an interview with the author (at least I think that’s what it was — I missed the beginning) and had been exploring the concept presented in the second chapter of the book: the ten thousand hour rule.
The Ten Thousand Hour Rule? After looking at various groups of “successful” and (what we might call) “talented” people, the author’s conclusion is that most of these folks have one thing in common: they have mastered their craft, skill, or ability because they have spent a lot of time practicing. In fact, they all spent about ten thousand hours practicing before they considered themselves at the top of their game — before they were considered experts, elites, or the best at what they did, before they published great or defining works, before they composed masterpieces, won the gold medal, earned the top prize, or became billionaires because of their skills — before they broke through the platinum standard of what society considers the best and became who they are.
Ten thousand hours is a lot. The author calculates that if one “practices” for three hours per day, every day, one could reach ten thousand hours in about ten years. I roughed out some math and figured out what that might mean for me, as an aspiring author, in terms of practice. I estimated that writing — not typing or transcribing, but actually generating words from thoughts and ideas — a good, solid pace is roughly, on average, ten words per minute. And I’ll reiterate: I’m not referring to typing speed or whatever. I’m assuming readers understand that when I write “writing” it is not the physical act of writing, but rather the mental process of thinking about an idea or story and turning it into words on a page. This blog post, for example: if I was talking about just ‘typing it’ I could probably type it in half the time I could ‘write it’ — get it? So, the ten words per minute concept… I estimate this based on a lot of writing — maybe even a lot of practice. And the thing is this: if you do the basic math that equates that number to the ten thousand hour rule you get the magic word count that takes one into the realm of expertise… six million words.
Now, the fun part is this: If I take all the writing I’ve done in my life and add it up — blog posts, creative words, business documents, and that kind of stuff — I think it would be generous to claim that I’ve hit about a million and a half words. That’s all. I’m a quarter of the way there. And at my current pace — assuming I didn’t hit my stride until I really started writing in this blog and putting together so much fiction (at a pace of about 100,000 words per year — I’m looking at another 45 years of practice before I can claim expertise. I’ll be in my mid-seventies by then. That’s a long wait.
I guess I’d better pick up the pace.
PS. You’ll also notice that with this blog hitting the 425,000 word mark around about this post, that a simple calculation of invested time here should tell you that I’ve spent over 700 hours working on this: that’s 17 weeks of ‘full time, 40 hour weeks’ or nearly a third of a year of un-gainful employment. *Sigh*