When I read the principle in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers it made a lot of sense to me. It was the one about 10,000 hours of dedicated practice leading to mastery.
It certainly seemed true in my previous vocation of psychotherapy. Getting those 10,000 hours would take five or ten years. Not only in providing the psychotherapy, but also doing it with diligent self-reflection and critical thought about how it was being done. Good psychotherapy could never be about what books one had read or what conferences one had attended or what model of therapy one practiced. It was about the psychologist being capable to self-reflect on that experience of providing therapy in a constructive and responsible way.
I worked the profession for over forty years, put in that 10,000 hours several times over. I can only hope that it was with sufficient dedication, discipline and self-reflection to have approached mastery. Then I jumped to an entirely different endeavour, that of writing fiction. I had to start all over again, learn a new set of skills, master an entirely different art, start down the road of a different 10,000 hours.
Which means once again I must tolerate not being particularly good at what I’m doing. I have to look at what I write with that keenly critical eye and I need to keep that internal criticality constructive rather than letting it discourage me.
A year ago I entered a writer’s contest and placed well: ninth of 567 entries. Way back then I hadn’t yet put in my 10,000 hours of short story writing, no way even close to it. But the contest administrators must have found something of value in what I wrote. You can read that story at The four of us (clickable link).
The contest, much like psychotherapy, requires one’s creativity and skill to be practiced within constraints. The Writer’s Playground criteria require the writer to choose between five different characters, five different potential contexts for the story setting and to include a mandatory element as a part of the story. The contest gives one only 10 days to complete the challenge: 10 days to come up with a workable premise, do the writing, self-edit the piece to make it readable and compelling.
And again last spring I entered a story again in a subsequent edition of the contest. I didn't place. And I had thought the story a good one, was particularly proud of it. I like the story well enough to include it on my website. You might want to check out The Scroll of Alphaeus (clickable link).
I have two self-published novels out there. They are kind of like the poor folk who happened to do therapy with me before I put in the 10,000 hours of dedication to the practice. There are flaws within each of the novels: stilted writing, errant handling of things like point-of-view and plot development. In each of the novels though, there are promises of a coming craft. One of my friends identifies my first novel A Greater Good as being my most compelling writing. I suspect that there were some great moments in the first years of practice as a psychotherapist as well. Just not mastery.
So what does one do with being still on the not-yet end of the 10,000 hour process? To enter the professional psychology field a certain amount of mandatory supervision is required (that wasn’t the case when I started 45 years ago). For my writing, there are editors from whom I can purchase critical feedback on my work. I have generous beta-readers who help me enormously with their graciousness in reading and commenting on stories (and you could be one too!). Email me if you are interested.
But it requires the maturity to be self-critical, to keep editing and polishing, always asking myself whether the words that have popped onto my page are sufficiently engaging for me to subject a reader to them. But not only the words, but also the ideas. I must constantly ask whether what I have written might further the reader’s insight into human nature, might help the reader to come to terms with something similar that happened to them.
It is difficult to be the judge of that, to be hard on myself while I try to rein in the flights of delight that come when the muse implants a peculiarly compelling scenario into my mind. And that’s the carefulness of still putting in that 10,000 hours to achieve mastery: it’s not just the hours, but the attitude toward those hours to make the writing beneficial for the reader.
I have no idea how many hours into this I am. I can only hope that however far along I am, I’m pursing this art of writing with sufficient diligence, critical self-reflection and dedication to the purity of the art. I write for the sake of telling my characters’ stories. But I write to walk along with my readers in gaining insight into the human condition, understanding it in a way that gives hope, grace and wisdom. It’s a worthy path to walk together.
July 2023 - How smart is SMART?
June 2023 - Only half there
May 2023 - Who gets to write the story?
April 2023 - Intersubjectivity. Hunh?
March 2023 - A disturbing trend
February 2023 - About being in the middle
January 2023 - Can we have a little heart here please?
December 2022 - A story about story
November 2022 - Facing One's Fears
October 2022 - Transitional folk
September 2022 - Transitions
August 2022 —At the other end of life's journey
July 2022—The problem with what emerges.
June 2022 — So who am I doing this for anyway?
May 2022 - Wait for it ... wait ...
April 2022 — Someone called me a Nazi.
March 2022 — Shush! Don't tell anyone.
February 2022 — So does life imitate art? Well, maybe sometimes.
January 2022 — The two most powerful lines in the book.
December 2021 — About time and being human.
November 2021 — Not a tidy little murder mystery
October 2021 — Flow versus focus.
September 2021 -- It's beautiful because it tells the truth.