Monday, March 29, 2010

Ten Thousand Hours

The Murderati Blog has a post from Alison Brennan on the need to put 10,000 hours of practice into something before your good at it. The book Outlier delves into this concept as well.

I'm surrounded by writers who have written 6, 7 even 10 manuscripts before they sold and I'm not even close to that. I tried to calculate how many hours I've spent seriously writing and, even if I'm generous, I don't think I could claim more than 4-5,000 hours. I think a lot of people quit before they reach 10,000. Only the stubborn and determined make it. Am I stubborn and determined enough to persevere until I get published? Most of the time I think I'll never quit trying, they'll have to bury me with my current WIP clutched in my cold, dead hands.

The more I write the more I realize I still have a lot to learn. When I first started, I guess you could say I was, I don't know, maybe a dabbler? I spent a lot of time learning and reading about writing and the writing business but little time actually producing any measurable word count. I wrote all over the place, short contemporary, romantic suspense, mysteries. Lines folded and the market changed and I'd switch to something else. I think I was looking for the "easy" story. One that would pour out of me as I imagined happened with the great writers. Surely, Lucy Maude Montgomery, didn't sit around agonizing over every little word?

A couple of years ago I decided to focus on one genre, short contemporary, specifically Silhouette Desire. And I finally started finishing and revising and sending out. I've had some interest, requests for fulls, great feedback and revision suggestions. I've also sent a first chapter to the Presents contest and received feedback but no request to see the rest of the story - just send us something else. Since I can turn those ideas into a Desire and my rejected Desire into a Presents, I still kept writing the short contemporaries with an alpha hero. That has kept me focused and driven for the better part of two years. A final rejection on that last MS has left me floundering to find the dedication that propelled me to write everyday.

Now I sit with a new MS that's proving to be hard work once again. It wants to turn itself into a longer book, with subplots and lots of secondary characters and it's made me anxious that I'm writing the wrong thing for me. And then I get anxious because I don't write fast enough and the world is passing me by and I'm letting opportunities slide as I sit here and waffle. Or am I just using excuses so that I don't have to tackle the hard work of battling my MS into a sale-able book? Hmm, I think I might have stumbled onto something interesting with that last observation.

Do you question the type of book you're writing? Do you write in multiple genres? Have you put in 10,000 hours yet?


Janet said...

Could you please get out of my head, Anne! Really, you have no right just to wander in and bare my most inner thoughts and fears on your blog! Some things are private, you know!

OK - as you can tell, I have these thoughts all the time. I started writing historical romance (I. Love. Historical. Romance). Then with my blogging I had people suggest I write romantic comedy. I also have a dark side and my twisted imagination creates some suspenseful plots that I try and get down on paper. And I did start writing just to write - coming back to a love I had let languish over too many years. Only recently have I decided to pursue publication.

BUT - with that pursuit comes a deep seated fear of failure. All the rejections pile up and I wonder if I really want to put all that effort into something I'm not getting rewarded for (yes, I'm a rewards kind of gal - behavior modification works very well for me). All the projects on the go - maybe not writer's block, maybe anxiety over never fulfilling my dreams.

K - this is too long of a comment and I'm getting too personal. See what you've done! Perhaps we (those of us who share your views/fears/frustrations) need to have a workshop and see if we can't break through our own defensive wall.

Great post, Anne. And I've heard of the 10,000 hour theory, but have no idea if I'm anywhere close to that number.

Anne MacFarlane said...

Janet, I'm so glad you let me know I'm not alone.

Funny enough, I presented a session to our RWA chapter on Self-defeating behaviors for writers. A few people told me they really got a lot out of it. I'm good at recognizing my self-defeating behaviors just not always good at fixing them or making them go away.

Janet said...

Ooh, wish I had been a member at that time, Anne! Yes, easy to 'see' the problem, a lot harder to fix it! Maybe hypnosis would help?

Cat Schield said...

Nothing like a rejection to really make you second guess yourself. Writing category is hard. You have limits, guidelines, specific word counts, tone, heat level, conflict limitations, etc. I could go on and on.

I think it comes down to if you enjoy writing a certain kind of book and that book falls into a specific line, then great. Trying to force yourself to write something because you like to read it or because you think that's what you should be doing, may cause you to hit barriers.

Every book is painful to write. If it's not, you might not be digging deep enough. Getting stuck in the middle is standard. Middles suck. No reason why you absolutely have to write for Desire. Take some time and really think about the stories you enjoy telling. Maybe you're just meant to write bigger books.

For what it's worth. And good luck with your current WIP.

Anne MacFarlane said...

Cat, a lot of my story ideas fit into the category format - just not all in the same one.

And, you're so right, writing is hard. I go through this second guessing everytime I hit a difficult patch.

Kelly Boyce said...

I think I'm around the 8,000 hour mark now if you don't count all those countless hours my BF and I sat on the floor of her bedroom from junior high until graduation writing fanfic. As for the type of book I'm writing, I made a genre switch this year - or rather switchback - from historical to YA and mainstream, so we'll see what happens. I prefer to keep my options open writing in several genres as opposed to just one.

Anne MacFarlane said...

Kelly, I think those hours of teenage fanfic count!

Julia Smith said...

Anne - I'm one of those people who realized the more they learned, the more they needed to learn. I've been with our writers' group for 7 years, I believe it is, and I'm only just getting the hang of it now.

Maisey said...

Anne, always remember that it's subjective. There's no set amount of hours and no magic number of MSs. I sold my first MS, but believe me, I'm still learning. I am so not all the way there, but I just focus on getting each MS there, which still takes me a lot of work.

But you could sell your next MS without having put in all the required hours or the nine or ten MSs or the average 5yrs. There are averages, but each person, and each person's story, is individual.

So just think of every MS as a learning, and a selling, opportunity!

Anne MacFarlane said...

Thanks Maisy, I do learn something from every book I write. I learn something from every chapter I write. And this MS is starting to take shape. So, maybe this is the one?

Maisey said...

Why not? You can't dwell on odds. Someone has to make it, one MS has to be the one. Why not you? Why not this one? :-D