10,000 Hours

After Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger  ditched US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in January, 2009, a number of articles appeared about the “10,000 hour principle,” most notably Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. Gladwell maintained that 10,000 hours is the amount of time required, more or less, to become an expert in most fields. (For the record, this number of hours equals the time spent in class and in studying to get a bachelor’s and master’s degree and then work for two years.)  Capt’n Sully had 12,000 hours flight time (my brother Ron, a retired pilot, has 17,000. I have one 1), if anyone wants to know.) and so qualified as an expert. The hours he spent sailplaning didn’t hurt, either.  I bet no one asked him where the engine was on his glider after the Miracle on the Hudson.

My point in all of this is: if you want to be a writer, you need to write. A lot. You need to write and write and write and write and then write some more. Write regularly at the same time and in the same place if you can. If you can’t, write wherever you are, whenever you can. Carry a notebook or if you tend to lose things like that (ahem), some paper to write on.  And a pen or pencil. Or a laptop. Whatever.

And you need an audience to read what you’ve written. Fix up a blog for yourself. (It’s easy—even I did it. If you can’t figure out how to do that, get a fifteen year old to help you in exchange for pizza.)  Run your stuff off and give it to your friends and family. Try to get published. Don’t fear rejection. It’s going to happen. Sooner or later you’ll start to succeed. Your family will stop running away when they see you coming toward them with paper in hand.  Your friends will ask you if you’ve written anything lately. Or maybe you won’t succeed. You’ll have had a great time doing so.

But it doesn’t happen overnight. 10,000 hours, remember?

It also helps to be in touch with other writers like yourself. I recommend a local group here in Manassas, Write by the Rails, which you can “like” as a group on Facebook. They have events and readings and you can identify some other writers you can hang out with. But don’t hang out too much. You’ll need the time to write.

It can help some people to take writing courses. Several local writers are involved in C.F.A. or M.F.A. programs, and there are classes taught at the Center for the arts in Manassas.  Some people, like local novelist Nancy Kyme, taught herself to write. That’s unusual and hard to do, but Nancy’s beautiful novel, Memory Lake, is proof it can be done. And Memory Lake,  she said, took her about ten years to write. If she wrote and edited four hours a day, five days a week with a two-week vacation from writing, that’s about 10,000 hour.

So, get going! What are you waiting for? Write!

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