Why is this? Literacy is widespread, and writing has low barriers to entry. Why don’t more make the jump? Is it that the whims of a global economy have crippled publishers? That the rise of visual media have put people off of books and newspapers and the like? That there’s actually such a glut of talent that one can’t get noticed? Perhaps. But an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, in the November 14, 2008, edition of The Wall Street Journal made me consider another possibility. Excerpt:
At one point you suggest that the difference between a professional and a talented amateur is 10,000 hours of practice. How did this become the magic number?Read the whole thing.
A group of psychologists who study expertise looked at a variety of fields. There is a threshold of preparation for greatness. Nobody has been a chess grandmaster without having played for 10 years, or composed great classical music without having composed for 10 years. When classical musicians were asked when they felt they achieved a level of expertise, the answer was 10,000 hours. It's an empirically based finding that seems consistent across a number of different fields. It also helps you understand why opportunities are so important. An opportunity is basically a chance to practice.
The math isn’t hard, even for a bibliophile such as myself. At eight hours a day and five days a week and fifty-two weeks a year, the soonest any of us could expect to become -- by Gladwell’s estimation -- professionals would be in half a decade. Most of us struggle to log a quarter of that. Perhaps despair at the enormity of the task, then, is what vanquishes budding writers. But that towering sum of time holds some encouragement, because we have a measure of control over it. I can’t prop up the credit markets or make people put down the remote or draw agents’ attention to me like iron filings to a magnet. But I can grit my teeth, duck my head and write.
(Picture: CC 2008 by Pop!Tech)