10,000 Hours

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Firstly, a belated welcome back to fellow blog mate Kathryn. I have only just got back on-line (why is it that free wi-fi at most places just means ‘it-doesn’t-work’ wi-fi???) and I was thrilled to see she posted this week. I am sending out good vibes from Moab, Utah, where my family and I are camped for the moment.

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers on my iPad and have been musing over his proposition that it typically takes really successful people about 10,000 hours to master their expertise. In the book he does a pretty good job of dispelling the myth of most ‘overnight success’ stories, arguing that innate talent alone is not enough and that most truly outstanding people have a rare combination of talent, opportunity and support to get where they got. They also had to work damned hard – like 10,000 hours – to get that far.

That got me thinking about some of the most successful writers around and I would bet most of them would agree it took many, many years of honing their skills to get them where they are today. As for ‘instant success’ stories, JK Rowling always comes to mind but I have to confess I don’t know how long she toiled at writing before she found that one great idea for the Harry Potter series. I do know she was on the brink of poverty and wrote in a local cafe to keep warm, so things were clearly by no means easy. Is she an exception though to Gladwell’s outlier thesis? What about other so called ‘overnight success stories’ in the fiction writing world? Did they put in the 10,000 hours but we just don’t know it?

What combination goes in to creating the true ‘outlier’ writers? Talent obviously. Determination for sure. Hard work, of course…and luck, lots of luck. But what else? I wonder what Malcolm Gladwell would find if he studied the world of fiction writing…I suspect he would see a similar pattern to the other areas he examined. But do you think 10,000 hours sounds about right? What else do you think is needed to be an ‘outlier’ writer?