In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell made famous the idea of “10,000” hours: the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a world-class performer — at anything.
On the one hand, 10,000 hours is a lot — about 10 years of hard work.
But, on the other hand, the theory might make you feel quietly optimistic: if I just keep writing for ten more years, and put in my 10,000 hours, I’ll be the next George RR Martin or Toni Morrison.
That doesn’t seem like a bad deal!
The trouble is this: when you go back to the original studies that Gladwell based his research on — the central document is the 1993 article, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” by K. Anders Ericsson and others — what you discover is that the case is a little more thorny, a little more complex, than Gladwell’s famous chapter maybe suggested.
In fact, in that original article, Ericsson flat out refutes the idea that “I’ll just keep writing until I hit 10,000 hours”:
“the belief that a sufficient amount of experience or practice leads to maximal performance appears incorrect.”
(It might be not enough to “just keep writing,” in other words, if you want to quickly improve.)
What Ericsson actually believes is that your practice must have a “deliberate” quality to it — your daily work should be built around a focused, incremental, strategic plan to build up skills.
And this leads to another complication, one that I don’t think Gladwell sufficiently explained: a crucial component in “deliberate practice,” in expert skill acquisition, is having a teacher.
The teacher’s job is to sequence the challenges, give instant feedback, correct errors, and lay out a strategic plan for improvement.
It’s only through the receiving of constant feedback that “deliberate practice” starts to really take effect.
(There certainly are other ways to create this feedback-practice-feedback loop. Perhaps you are in a band with John Lennon, and he keeps pushing you to write better songs; perhaps you self-publish a new novel every four months, and Amazon reviews teach you what works and what doesn’t. But the easiest option is to have a teacher who is focused on making you a better writer.)
This is a longwinded way of saying that my writing course on plot and planning, “Your Novel Roadmap,” is closing for enrollment at 9pm tonight.
And I think that what I’m offering here is going to be really worthwhile.
Week by week, I’m going to present you with a framework for beginning a new novel, outlining it scene by scene, and creating within that plan a series of exciting plot twists and surprises.
Then I’m going to give you writing assignments to get working on, and in the Facebook group, I’ll tell you — in a friendly, respectful, but clear way — how I think you did.
You’ll be receiving constant feedback from me and the other members of the group — and this is not vague “did you like it” feedback, but feedback about how you accomplished, or did not accomplish, or pivoted brilliantly around that week’s training lesson.
There will also be a one-to-one coaching call at the end, if you purchase the full course, to get additional feedback on how your novel plan has shaped up, and what trouble you still might get into.
Have a look at the course page, here:
Enrollment closes at 9pm tonight, east coast US time.
I would love for you to join us.