10,000 Hours of Writing

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Even if you don’t know much about skiing, I’ll bet you’ve heard the name Picabo Street, the Olympic Gold medalist. I heard a sound bite from her recently, referencing the 10,000 hours that any Olympic hopeful should expect to put in, and I thought, Holy Super G!

That’s ten years.

Maybe you’ve also heard about the 10,000 hour rule, that it requires that kind of effort to master a skill. And though I know writers who haven’t put in quite that many hours before finding success, I also know many writers who would say they’d put in at least ten years in their craft—and they still have more work to do!

I’m not sure that I’ll ever master writing, but I’m working on my 10,000 hours. Still, it’s a daunting task. And I thought maybe some of you might be working on 10,000 hours as well. So here are just two of the techniques I use to rack up writing hours:

Ditch the Electronic Distractions

Back on January 1st, I resolved to cut back on social media (again). I didn’t want to give it up completely because I enjoy hearing from friends, both personal and professional. So I set limits—7 minutes a day—and I’ve been successful. Here’s why: I quit clicking on links.

Oh, my word, how I love an interesting link! I mean, I’m a writer with a dangerously high level of curiosity. I could literally spend all day, following one fascinating link after another (and honestly, I think there may have been quite a few days in 2013 when I did).

I stayed my hand on the mouse and slew my distraction dragon. You can, too. Take a good look at your electronic habits and cut back. I’ll bet your writing hours will Super G explode.

Plan, Plan, Plan

Do you think Picabo Street became an Olympic skier because she only practiced when she was in the mood? She hit the slopes, no matter what. So, too, should you schedule words on to paper if you want to get in those practice hours of writing.

But Cathy, you say, I don’t always have something to write about. And I say to you that it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you schedule time to write—and write something during that time. And here’s what will happen: you will train your brain.

Schedule an hour or more, every day if you can manage it, and sit down and write something. Start a blog, try a prompt, revise that stinky under-the-bed manuscript. Work on your writing and watch your hours snowball.

The most important technique in getting 10,000 hours done is not over-complicating the process. You don’t have to win a gold medal, after all. You just have to write. And before you know it, those hours will pay off with much improved writing!

~Cathy C. Hall


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--You're right. I tell my third graders--when they're supposed to write for a solid 20-30 minutes, to write, "I don't know what to write, I don't know what to write" and keep their hand and pencil in that groove, and something WILL come to their brain that they then can write down.

Bodybuilders work on their muscles every day. Writers have to use their writing muscles every day.

Monica Stoner said...

A good work ethic is a writer's best tool but I think there has to be something to build on. Picabo practiced and worked out, but she started with some innate ability.
True, far too many athletes and writers have innate ability oozing out of every pore but don't nurture and encourage it through, as you say, exercising that muscle. But there are also far too many out there who work out obsessively and will never achieve much more than adequate.
We've all read those books

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

One of my Facebook pals (yes, I see you snickering at the irony) posted a thingy today of a dog sitting in front of a computer keyboard with the blurb that writing requires adherence to two commands: Sit and stay. I thought of that when I read this, because you're so right---we need to map our writing time and follow that sit/stay rule for writing (not link clicking). I'm 20,000 words into my WIP because I've (mostly) followed that rule, and yours. It comes down to making the commitment and seeing it through without distractions. Your Muffin post doesn't count as a distraction (even if I did link here from your blog) because you're on my to-do list. Your posts fall under the "learn stuff from Cathy" category. :)

Margo Dill said...

10,000 hours--WOW! But I would agree that the more we do something (if we are also trying to learn and improve), we get better and smarter. I am so much smarter about the publishing world than I was when I started. That said, I have to cut the distractions. I am in the middle of a new plan--I haven't implemented it yet, but taking the time this week to do it.

RE Social Media and Blogs: They are important. I had people buy/review my book when it came out that I have never met in person because I have kept those relationships going which are give and take. HOwever, you do have to limit yourself or you will waste all your time--as Cathy said.

It's all about balance.

Debra Mayhew said...

You have no idea how much I needed this post today. It seems like every time I turn around (or log on to facebook) there's another writer's success story. I'm always happy to hear someone else's news, but along with it comes this little pang of frustration. I wonder what I'm doing wrong. I needed to be reminded that this is a long process, and I have to find joy in the journey - not just the destination.

Linda O'Connell said...

Cathy, your words of wisdom always inspire me to write what starts as nonsense sometimes but swerves into something decent once I get going.

Cathy C. Hall said...

I'm glad to have the company of so many wonderful writers! And yes, balance is key. (Because of course I still click on the links that support my writing and my writer friends!)

Unknown said...

Oh this is so so so true. I have a brand new idea in my head for a book and am so scared it's stupid, won't work, has been done, that I won't start. I'll research the idea, write out note cards about the idea, but have yet to begin that crappy first draft. Not a word. I spend too much time in social media avoiding it all, comparing myself and falling short. Grrrr-- this was just the kick in my tush I needed. Thank you. Now off to surf.. (jusssst kidding).

LuAnn Schindler said...

I don't think I could limit social media to 7 minutes. I'm a link clicker!! Plus, a lot of times I generate story ideas from those. You're right - it's about balance.

Right now, I feel like I'm putting in 10,000 hours a week at the newspaper, but it's great for this journalist!

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