Sunday, 17 July 2011

Writing Novels and Things #6: 10,000 hours

I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front this week, because I am generally a bit rubbish at having a life and doing my novel and blogging. Which is why I usually try my best not to have a life. Actually, in my life's defence, I have also been on a bit of a reading binge since rediscovering my love of the Adrian Mole series, and that has taken up a lot of my non-life/non-novel/blogging time.

But I've finished them all now (sadly - for they are genius-like in goodness), and also, in novel-updating news, I now HATE my novel and think I need a bit of a break. I was doing so well with the revisions, and actually enjoying the rewriting process, but at about the halfway point of the novel, I lost energy, and I know that I started to get a bit lazy, on account of how terrible I thought it all was, so I may have a bit of a break before I get back to it...

A source of much of my pain and frustration during this editing process has been a severe lack of faith in my talent and abilities and worth as a human being. This is, of course, not a good situation to be in generally, for persons, but I think it's possibly even worse when you're trying to write something. For me, I need to be in a cocksure, slightly conceited state in order to let the creative juices flow, uninhibited. When I write self-consciously, it's just not very good.

Well, unfortunately, I read an article entitled 'Are you good enough to write professionally?' which more or less confirmed that I am not yet a good writer. It essentially sang the virtues of Anders Ericsson's theory (put to good use in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success), which states that in order to be an expert at something (and in this case, I am interpreting that as 'publishable writer') you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice. And that practice needs to be good, well-directed practice at that. I have almost certainly not put in 10,000 of writing practice.

10,000 hours is equal to roughly 420 full days, which is about 14 months of solid writing. At the age of 26, I'm sure it is possible for me to have put in that much time (especially as school accounts for, say, 500 hours worth of writing). But I am sure that, even with my masters and creative writing classes and writing groups and my novel (which, by the end of second draft, I predict will have taken up about 200 hours), I am not even half way. [NB. I'm not entirely sure what this practice involves - is it actual writing, or does studying writing, or even just reading count? That would obviously effect my balance. I'm assuming it is just the actual act of writing.]

In a way, this is quite reassuring because I'm not expected to be good at this stage. In other ways, it is a bit daunting and also a bit depressing. I have tended to think that I have paid my dues and that, well, I got a distinction in my Creative Writing masters, so I must be good enough, right? And all those doubts I have had, I was able to rationalise away with 'No, I am empirically, objectively, definitely a good writer - a writer of distinction!' All those (admittedly internal) voices of dissent, asserting that I achieved that success fraudulently, by being relatively chummy with my teachers, and just reading all the books on the reading list, were ridiculous because my manuscripts were Externally Moderated Actually! And that is true, and, even though I didn't actually like my final manuscript, the markers (External and my teachers) obviously saw something in it. But I know that I am still not necessarily that good of a writer, yet.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4Being inexpert doesn't mean untalented, I realise, and putting in the hours is mostly quite an enjoyable experience, so I am certainly not taking this article as bad news. The more I revise my current, untitled but fish-based, novel, the more I see it as one of potentially several practice novels, before I even think about getting published. That thought is rather liberating, and has actually made me feel more inspired, after being a little down in the doldrums, writing-wise.

Today, I may even start brainstorming for my next novel: a comic, literary coming-of-ager, that is almost definitely not trying to be Adrian Mole.

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