Putting In Your 10,000 Hours

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Brad Torgersen has a great post on what rejection slips mean, which you should read, but the upshot is this: You’re going to get a lot of rejection slips as a writer.  Wear them as badges of honor.  There’s no particular trick to being published except “Writing an exceptional story” – and most of us need to write a lot of dreck before we finally start finding our inner voice.
But though Brad touches on the 10,000 hour theory, which I believe – which states that you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice before you can achieve greatness – I feel that 10,000 hours is frequently misunderstood.  It’s not just 10,000 hours of writing – shit, I put that in between 1985 and 2000 alone, and no sales.
That’s because I wasn’t getting good feedback, or being particularly ambitious.  I was writing to please my friends, and I thought that “pretty good” stories were good enough, not realizing that the slush piles are clogged with “pretty good,” and they want great.  I spent a lot of time in front of the keyboard, but I wasn’t learning much – I talked to buddies who liked what I wrote well enough, and when I got rejected I shrugged.
I wasn’t learning.
That’s why Clarion was so transformative to me.  I had eighteen people, all willing to pound my story to bits.  At Clarion, I found I had a lot of lazy writing habits – shortcuts I took because I thought no one would notice, but it turns out that pretty much everyone did.  I learned that writing was not one Big Thing, but the accumulation of a thousand tiny details, and the more of them you can get right, the better the story works.  Every detail matters, every word matters, because you’re going to mess up about a hundred things even in a very short story… and your only saving grace will be that you get more things right.
Note that Brad had his breakthrough when he started writing for him.  He tried new techniques.  And that’s what those 10,000 hours are, to me – burning away trying to imitate other writers until you find out what you do well.  No amount of effort is a guarantee, but no effort almost always is.
You’re gonna get rejected a lot.  That’s because you’re not good enough yet.  But “not good enough today” isn’t the same as “never good enough,” and if you’re honest and perceptive and hard-working, maybe one day you can start selling stories to the markets you dream of.
Then you’ll get bigger dreams.  And work even harder.

1 Comment

  1. Brad R. Torgersen
    Oct 22, 2013

    Making a conscious effort to try new things was a huge plus for me. Getting comfortable with first-person (as opposed to standard novel voice third-person) made all the difference in my short form works. It was a highly uncomfortable swap. But it paid off. Now it feels odd to write short work in third, as opposed to first. And almost all of my best short stuff is told in first.
    I see the rush to publish among fledgling indie authors as being one of the more unfortunate side effects of the indie revolution — a revolution I still see as being a nominal plus. Too many people putting unready work on the market, because they assume craft doesn’t matter. Because 50 Shades. Because money! Alas, 99.9999999% of those authors won’t cash in, and are perhaps setting themselves up for not getting any better if they content themselves with producing in a “stuck” state of development.
    I always wanted to do Clarion West (when I lived in Seattle) but I never had the time or the finances. I do think getting feedback from a critical audience can force a writer out of his or her comfort zone, and this in turn forces growth; presuming the criticism is constructive and the author has a thick skin. But I can say too that learning to ignore feedback that wasn’t helping my storytelling was also a big growth moment. I think the point of any critique cluster should be to teach the writer to fly solo, not turn the cluster into a crutch. But this is my opinon; YMMV.

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