Dear all, there was an interesting article on the BBC website the other day concerning the topic of practice. The core concept being if you practice for a certain amount of time can you become good, or possibly great, at anything? I can’t remember where I have read about it before but it is a theory that has been around for quite a while. This particular article discusses the 10,000 hours principle. Have a read of the article if you have the time, there is debate to be had of course but as a topic I thought it would be interesting to relate it to writing.
I have said many times that the best advice I think you can give someone, is not specific technical advice, but simply the encouragement to keep going. There are countless books you can read that can teach you technique and countless courses you can go on and that is great. However, what I am fast learning is the need to simply produce a lot of work and how that in itself can make you better. I won’t go into the argument about geniuses here, or natural talent and all that, let’s keep that for another time. I like the idea that by putting in a certain amount of work, you will get results. The main thing with that is the reliance you need on yourself to constantly judge and appraise and critique your own work. You have to be honest and brutal with what you produce as otherwise you will keep on producing the same quality. Yes, you have to do all the other things that go with practice i.e. get feedback from others and all that, of course, but when you think about how much time goes into something it’s incredible. If you take the 10,000 hours figure, divide that by 24 for the number of days, that is 417…over a year of solid practice if you never slept, ate and brushed your teeth. If you average a working day to 8 hours, that is 1250 days, or three and a half years of practice every single day, no weekends, no holidays…if you work a 9-5, Mon-Fri and let’s say for example 45 weeks of the year…that is five and a half years.
Let me ask you, if you started a job, would you want to be good at it in five and a half years time? I hope so. How many of us practice our hobbies for 40 hours a week consistently week after week after week? If you enjoy a Sunday game of football (ahem, soccer) then that is 90 mins. So you would have to play every week for something like 130 years to reach that number…I enjoy writing so if I have totally messed up that maths you know what excuse I have ready…
Whether or not you go along with this theory, or even the suggestion of it, it’s interesting to talk about practice in general. If I write every day, even if it is just in a journal, notes only, not formal prose, would my vocabulary, expression, style and so on improve? Surely I would say but you are free to argue.
I am really trying to write every day, I’m not always succeeding and there are plenty of temptations keeping me away from the keyboard but I would say at the very minimum I am thinking about writing every day. I would say that this is hugely important for a writer, I can’t explain it but there is definitely a process by which your mind, your subconscious, develops your ideas and stories while you are away from the laptop. After sleeping you can often find your brain has churned away to resolve some issue you were having, the same when going for a walk, or a run and so on. It is not just a mental exercise, many different people talk about the essential need for the brain to have time to think things through, there are many famous sportspeople that describe how important thinking through their technique is to them and their success, not just the physical practice of the free kick, or the serve, or the pass or whatever it was, but the mental visualization of it, going over and over and over and over it in your head. That too must form part of the hours of practice you need and for someone who is interested in writing I would say sometimes the best ideas come from those moments. However, you need to put yourself in a position where it is a conscious effort during the day or night, you tell yourself to think about it because you are passionate about it and enjoy it so much so your body and mind want to work as one to do it anyway, it may be a pressure but it’s one that is perversely enjoyable, even on those days when you think you are the stupidest most unskilled untalented idiot in the world who should just run away crying and never be heard from again, you have the opportunity to learn…I have plenty of those days by the way, I think I have already achieved my 10000 hours practice at that, several times over!
Of course, you have to vary what you practice; you can’t expect to be good at everything if you only ever repeat the same thing. A footballer doesn’t just practice passing and totally ignore penalties (English players aside that is….ooooooouuuu, don’t think I can ever go home now) and a boxer doesn’t just train to punch uppercuts and totally ignores hooks, and so on. You need to vary what you learn and with writing that goes too. That is why I am really enjoying this time away to test ideas out, experiment a bit, I can focus on character development one day and setting description the next, first person and third person and so on. There is so much to do that it will always and forever be just practice though, that’s the way I see it.
I had in mind to talk about experimenting with different styles but this took over today, I’ll talk about that another time. I have always felt that we could do so much more if we tried harder but it is so hard to do when you have commitments, if you have a full time job, children, studies and all the other things that go to making it hard to focus on the hobbies and it gets to the point where because you haven’t reached an expected standard, either expected by yourself or others, you give up, and that’s a real shame. So whether or not the 10000 rule is true, the old adage practice makes perfect still holds, I will try and write every day and I can always make myself feel better by saying that even if what I have produced today is total rubbish, I have learnt something just by the act of practicing…that’s an excuse I’m never going to tire from!
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