Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The 10,000 rule theory

There's a suggestion circulating, that's been repeated in several formats, but that summarises down to 10,000 hours of writing before we become 'expert'.
So, at 24 hours a day, it takes just over a year and three months to master parenthood after our first child (discounting instinct and natural ability). I would say most parents agree with that idea - I know I still have my doubts about the 'newer' parts of parenting, and my kids are 9 and 7. At eight hours a day, every day, it would take almost three and a half years to become an expert writer. Longer if we're not writing for the eight hours a day.

Focusing onto writers specifically though, Hemingway/Bradbury it takes "1,000,000 words of crap" (Neil Gaiman said once, in a speech in 2005, that Bradbury said it - others have accredited it to Hemingway). If we're writing 10,000 hours to get to our 'expert' status, then we 'only' need to write 100 words an hour for eight hours. 100 words an hour is fairly low, so it got me to thinking about what else we'd need to master as a writer.
This is what I suggest, but I'm interested in hearing what people think on the theory.

  • Writing - should take up the lions share of it, but believe it or not, it doesn't. 1000 words a day would burn through 1000 hours. That leaves 9000 hours.
  • Before that, plotting, research - I'd say two hours per 1000 words is a generous allowance - and we're up to 3,000 hours.
  • Afterwards - editing - another three hours per 1000 words. You can include the redrafting in there, and use some of your 1000 words a day, which would cut it by an hour a day. So that's 2,000 hours, taking us up to 5,000 hours.

That leaves 5,000 hours to master the other stuff writers need to learn. Promotion, networking, querying, effective critical analysis of our writing. Plus we can and SHOULD add reading into there, both fiction, and non fiction. And when you look at it that way, 10,000 hours isn't really all that much.

How about you? Do you agree with the breakdown? Even the most generous estimates on research/plotting is more than I currently undertake, but less than some writers that I know.

The result of all of this - no matter what way you look at it, is that writers have to buckle down and write. We have to continue to work hard at our craft - probably past the 10,000 hours that takes us to our goal.
I'll be doing articles on this over at Dynamic-author, but for the moment, I'm keen to hear what everyone thinks ;) More hours on writing, editing? Less on research and plotting? What's your take?

(x-posted to Mamaneedsabookcontract, Spirit-tome and my personal blog)

2 comments:

Carolyn Erickson said...

Since I avoid math when possible, I pay no attention to this theory. And I know I'm being contrarian here, but I also question how Bradbury/Hemingway really knew what he was talking about. He was doubtless too busy writing to set up double-blind studies, gather and analyze the data, and come up with a quantifiable number that applies to everyone. ;-)

My suspicion is that it takes *genius* writers 10,000 hours of pure writing to master the craft, but it Probably takes all of us regular folks our whole lives.

But that's okay. You don't have to really be a master to start writing and getting published, thank goodness. :D

Serenity Now! said...

I'm not sure that there's one magic formula. Some people are better than others, some people have more natural talent that doesn't have anything to do with practice.