Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

The 10,000 hour rule November 22, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:06 pm
Tags: ,

Okay, I should be editing, but I’m doing my lazy Sunday morning blog surf instead. First thing after lunch, eight hours editing starts!

Found this post , which set me off on more reading. Kate Harrison’s publisher wanted to reprint her first published women’s fiction story. Kate wanted the chance to revise it first, as she knew her writing had developed over the six years since that novel was published.

She says-

There’s a theory that to master any art or craft – music, painting, writing – one needs to spend 10,000 hours on it.  This works out at eight hours per weekday for five years. I haven’t kept a timesheet, but I would say I’m approaching that now. I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered fiction by any means, but I find out something new about craft or story-telling with every book. I definitely edit far more now than I did at the beginning.

So apart from being more of a devil with the delete button, what exactly have I learned over the last six years? I think the single thing I’m clearer about now is the need to create an emotionally satisfying journey for the reader. When I first wrote about Tracey, I believed that for the most part, people didn’t change significantly – which, I realise now, fundamentally misses the point about fiction, which is that it is all about change. ‘Emotionally satisfying’ in women’s fiction doesn’t necessarily mean a trip up the aisle (or even up and down the aisles of Selfridge’s), but it does need to have some form of redemption or resolution – a sense that the story tells us something about human nature, and perhaps about ourselves, even if it’s just that we want to laugh in the face of adversity.

That issue about characters changing through the story, I think is crucial. It’s why plots based on external conflict aren’t usually as as emotionally satisfying as stories based on internal conflict. If it’s circumstances keeping the hero and heroine apart, all that needed is that the situation changes, and the characters can get together. End of story. But there hasn’t need any real character change or development. These can be stories where there’s a lot going on, but we don’t feel like we’ve gone as deep with the story people. The resolution doesn’t always have that “Yesssss!” sigh at the end. It can feel like they haven’t really earned their HEA.

When the story is driven by internal conflict, it’s what is inside the characters that is getting in the way of the relationship developing (just had this image of a horrible little Alien-like creature known as the Relationship Block, living in the character- ewwweeeee!). To get to their HEA, the characters have to challenge their own beliefs and fears to grow and change, face that monster and defeat it. The journey is primarily an emotional one, and the reader is along for the ride. These are the stories that move us to tears at the Black Moment, have us cheering at the Resolution.

The other thing that intrigued me was the 10,000 hour concept. So I followed that up. It’s from the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, which has been on my Amazon wish list since it first came out, but I haven’t read yet. Kate’s post links to this article which specifically looks at this idea and writing. Doesn’t say we have to clock up the 10,000 hours to get published. This is to mastery. 

This made me smile-

Just as there are no sneaky geniuses who cheat the rule, there are no cursed losers who grind away until they die. Gladwell described a study published in Psychological Review (“The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,”) and wrote that the researchers simply couldn’t find any “people who worked harder than everyone else, but just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks.”

Nice. Even when I’m writing crap, I’m making progress.

That’s reassuring. Because too many of us have this belief that talent is something we either have or we don’t. If we feel like we’ve tried and don’t succeed, we question ourselves, wonder if the problem is us, that no matter how hard we work we just don’t have what it takes. His theory seems to junk that idea. The book’s premise is that what is seen as exceptional talent is a combination of being in the right place, having the right opportunities and support, but mainly working working working working. And if we really and truly put in the work, we will become skilled, we will finally reach mastery.

Okay, how many more hours do I need to put in?  10,000 is a helluva lot of time, a helluva lot of work. Better get on to that editing!


15 Responses to “The 10,000 hour rule”

  1. Maisey Says:

    LOL. I completely agree, Jane! Talent matters, that’s for sure. But talent alone doesn’t get a person published. It’s that combination of talent, luck, discipline and luck. 🙂 And Luk? 😀

    Love your commentary on IC…and the little relationship block alien!!

    You’re right. If the characters aren’t forced to grow, change, sacrifice, then it just isn’t as satisfying. But if they’ve really had to change themselves, to confront all of their demons and come out on top, not just find their better half, in order to have their HEA it’s much more satisfying. Plus, you have the added bonus of really seeing why the h and H are going to be together for ever! Because they have a love that goes beyond circumstance, a love that they had to fight for and bleed for.

    Wow…think I need to go blog that… LOL.

  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    That’s the whole key to what makes a romance satisfying, IMO.

  3. Eileen Says:

    (not so) Coincidentally, 10,000 hours is roughly the amount of time it takes to get a PhD in just about anything.

    I heard the guy who wrote Outliers on NPR and I sort of wanted to read the book … although the radio interview seemed so thorough!

  4. waitingforthecall Says:

    It seems like one of those “Read the reviews and you don’t need to read the book” sort of books. Hear the soundbites, and the rest is just backing them up.

    Did get a bit of editing done yesterday. This is sooooo worth doing even if I never sub the book. My next first draft should be that much cleaner. Hopefully I’l be more aware of my tendency to passive voice and to using two words where one will do. Though I might always write drecky first draft that needs a load of clean-up.

    How is your memoir progressing?

  5. Eileen Says:

    Kind of stalling. I’ve been letting myself do other work (necessary) and then when I return to it I’m not finding the words. Probably b/c I’m a t a tough part mentally. I’m trying to figure out how to describe this whole big fiasco without being melodramatic.

  6. waitingforthecall Says:

    Be as honest and melodramatic as it takes. The truth of your experience will be in there. Then you can always edit back later.

    Um, just thought about this some more. Using the word melodrama to my mind carries a jusgement of the strngth of your feeling about whatever this is. But what you feel is what you feel, whether others involved felt the same or agrred with you is irrelevant. Your feelings are real.

  7. Barbara Says:

    10,000 hours? Whoa.

    I believe it. I’ve learned alot from all of the ‘hours’


  8. waitingforthecall Says:

    I’m hoping some of the hours spent reading count too!

  9. Eileen Says:

    I’d say “active” reading counts. 🙂 All that reading I did as a teen where I just devoured without knowing what or why or how things were put together the way they were in books (back when it was all magic) doesn’t so much count toward the 10k but the more recent reading is a NECESSARY part of the studying 🙂

    I’ve decided to just let go and write the drama whether it’s overly emotional, melodramatic or dry as a rock. I have an instructor right now who is out to massacre melodrama wherever he finds it (that and comma splices) so it gets a little daunting once all that gets in your head and then you have to go and write a piece that was more emotionally injuring than anything else. I got writing a little bit more today when I realized that there’s only six days after this one left in NaNoWriMo. Even with tongiht’s work I’m only at 28,440 words! eep!

  10. waitingforthecall Says:

    Write the tough part purely for yourself, your instructor never needs to see the raw version. Hey, do you get the NaNo pep talks. Robin McKinley’s (love her writing) made me cry.

  11. Eileen Says:

    I loved Robin McKinley’s pep talk as well 🙂 I read her book Deerskin in class last spring and it was very poetic and emotional.

    It’s probably my favorite pep talk of the bunch this year. 😀

    I’m all over the place doing anything I can to get word count.

  12. waitingforthecall Says:

    Her writing is powerful- I found Deerskin unbearable in places.

    Good luck with the word count! Even if you don’t crack 50,000 words, you’ll still have a brilliant total for the month.

    I’m nowhere near my November target- I set an editing goal not wordcount. Still, it’s moving forward and I’m feeling okay with what I’m doing. Not overjoyed yet, but I can see my writing getting better and I’m starting to get into my characters’ heads in a way I didn’t in first draft.

  13. Eileen Says:

    oo! that is exciting. any time you’re able to crack them open and see inside is fab

  14. waitingforthecall Says:

    Yes, it felt good to be right there in Emma’s mind. Of course, now I need to hang on to that through another day of work sucking my brains out!

  15. […] was reading a post on Waiting For the Call https://waitingforthecall.wordpress.com, and it got me to thinking about why internal conflict is so much more effective than external […]

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