Friday, May 30, 2008

10,000 Hours

That is apparently how long it takes to get good at anything:

Before I became a writer, I assumed that some people (Nabakov, Updike, Bellow, etc.) were natural writers. They were born speaking in pithy prose, with taut sentences and interesting verb choice. But then, after reading all the usual Bellow masterpieces, I started reading his early novels. And I realized that even Bellow had to learn how to write. Nabakov juvenalia is similarly flawed. (Early Updike is still pretty fine, so maybe he's the exception.)

And then, once I started writing, I realized that writing is no different than any other craft or skill. It takes time and effort and the ability to tolerate lots of mistakes. You need to write lots and lots of bad sentences before you can begin to write some good sentences. (And I'm only beginning to write some good sentences.) In fact, I'm pretty convinced that K. Anders Ericcson's theory of expertise - it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice before you can become an expert - is pretty much a universal rule of human nature. It applies to golfers and poets, violinists and editors. The brain is a slow and methodical learner. As Bob Dylan put it, "there's no success like failure". What he meant, I think, is that success depends on the ability to tolerate failure. Lots and lots of failure.

That is Jonah Lehrer at The Frontal Cortex. His blog post concludes with an excellent YouTube clip of NPR reporter Ira Glass talking about what it takes to master a craft. It is worth a view.

1 comment:

ProgressiveChurchlady said...

"Bird by Bird" as Anne Lamott puts it! I'm starting to put one sentence in front of the other.