The Intentional Writer: How to Put in 10,000 Real Hours
Think you’ve got to write everyday to be a great writer?
We’ve all seen the memes. You know the ones - they call us out when we’re surfing the web. They point a finger and tell us that we “should be” writing.
Sometimes it’s shirtless Ryan Gosling with his chin out, an image overwritten with bold white Arial font, and we fall helpless victim only to snap out of it ten minutes later with a pen in our hands and drool on our papers.
These memes convince us we that will become better writers by the simple logic that more of our words exist.
Well, we’re putting our pens down once and for all. We can’t be swayed that easily by some handsome, muscular, blue-eyed “hey girl…” Arial-fonted cat-call...
Sorry, were we saying something important?
Oh, yes. “Write everyday?” “You should be writing?” It’s not what’s going to get you to authorial greatness.
Consider this. Writing is the only memed gig out there where you have to be told to “do it.” How many memes do you see that tell you to go play your guitar? Or, to disappear in your garage to work on your ’67 Chevy? It’s because writing is both simultaneously rewarding, and really hard work.
There’s a well-known concept, made famous by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, that 10,000 hours of practice can make anyone an expert in a field. That breaks down to about twenty hours a week for 10 years. Boom. Expert writer in a decade? We here at Loud Coffee Press are beyond that point, in writer time and years, and feel that the term “expert” leaves much to be desired. Because, as Gladwell also points out, there’s more to it than just time. It’s not a simple equation of: words in x 10,000 hours = expertise.
And here’s why: theoretically, you could write the same way from start to finish, never improving, but only creating a more expansive body of the same type of work. If that work is riddled with unchecked error, plotless rambling, and flat characters, the argument could be made that growth has not occurred.
What’s missing in the so-called expert equation?
It’s writing with intention.
Ultimately, learning is both in efficiency of the effort and quality of the practice. How can you become a better writer? Here are our best tips:
1. Seize opportunities for plenty of feedback. Form groups of writing friends, both those at your level, those novice to your level, and those whose levels you strive to write near. Surrounding yourself with stratified skill will help your improvement on both the feedback and critiquing end of things. Check with your library, local community colleges, or Facebook groups to see where or how you might find writing circles near you.
2. When asking for critique, seek specific areas in which you’d like to improve and make focused efforts in those areas. Writing feedback tends two work on two levels: the global and the specific. Decide where and how you want to learn, and adjust your focus efforts over time.
3. Set yourself up with a writing partner that complements your style. There’s something awesome that happens when you work with a partner that provides totally honest feedback. They become your writing trust fall. That same person can also be your biggest writing cheerleader.
4. Utilize books on craft by actually doing the exercises contained within them. There are so many of these books out there! They run the gamut from novice to advanced, and include fan favorites such as: Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer, Gotham Writer’s Workshop: Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide, Steven King’s On Writing, Chuck Palahniuk’s Consider This, and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life.
5. Listen to podcasts on writing and apply the advice to your work. A perennial favorite comes from the Iowa Summer Writing Festival's 11th Hour talks, and it’s called The Writing University.
6. Take webinars or online classes through reputable sources. Writer’s Digest and the Gotham Writer’s Workshop are two of the many that offer online classes. The University of Iowa International Writer’s Workshop offers online MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) free to the public most years. In fact, all of IWP's MOOC's are archived at their site, so you can access all of the previous course material ever taught at no cost! Masterclass is tons of fun if you enjoy learning from some published greats.
7. Attend writing conferences, like Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, or the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Annual Conference.
8. Submit your work for publication - not only by querying the long stuff, but the short pieces, too. Learn from feedback and rejections. Make improvements. Curious about where to submit your short writing? Try a searching an online database like Duotrope, or by reviewing Poets & Writers literary database.
9. Read. Read books, but also journals, poetry, creative non-fiction. Read inside and outside of your genre. Read like a writer. Listen for rhythm. Focus on sentence structure, plot, story arc, character development and voice. Learn what sings to you and what makes you shake your head.
10. Use YouTube to search videos on specific writing issues, or on global process improvement. We’re big fans of The Art of Improvement, a general "living better" vlog to help with creativity. YouTube is also a treasure trove of creative writing faculty lecture postings.
11. Check your mechanics. Refresh your grammar with a book on the basics. Do you have a copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style in your collection?
12. Critique the work of others. If you can teach it, theoretically, you can apply it and do it. In the same token, learn to take critique like a professional. If it makes sense, even if it’s hard to hear, accept it for what it’s worth. Filter it through your expanding writer lens.
13. Think about your writing. It’s an important part of processing.
14. Also, write.
15. Cram it all into 10,000 hours. (Kidding. Do it however you want.)
Oh, and we’d be remiss not to mention one teeny tiny little thing.
Sheer raw writing talent.
Now, you could argue that if you have the writerly drive and the ambition, then you probably have enough writing talent to ambitiously drive you forward. No writer needs to be born with oodles of talent; just a splash of so-called cream in the coffee will do. But, how dare we, the “expert” writers here at LCP, be the gatekeepers of talent? We wouldn’t dare. That’s how. Ultimately, the best part about writing is that it’s a field in which, arguably, no one can establish expertise. Not even the ten-thousand-houred all-in best-intentioned writer.**
Although, that person** is probably really good.
**And our submissions are currently open.
Post-post-script: Loud Coffee Press has no affiliations with anything mentioned in this article. These are just a few of the high quality resources we have used and like. We may, however, be bought if the price is right.