Since I was in the sixth grade, I knew I wanted to write professionally, but I also knew I had to work to get there.
I wrote a novella I called “Me, Lisa,” about a sixth-grader’s reactions to going through her parents’ divorce. It starts with quote marks, does not establish a clear setting in the first few pages, has flat characters and lacks true-sounding dialogue.
Of course I was a child, and definitely not a savant writer able to produce genius-level material without life experience, years spent writing and knowledge of the art and craft.
First, I needed to put in my 10,000 hours, at least if I take to heart the advice in Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Outliers: The Story of Success,” which asks what makes high achievers different.
After 16 years of working as a journalist, I probably clocked in about 32,000 hours (this, minus my two weeks of vacation each year), but all of that time wasn’t spent on writing. I had to conduct interviews, make phone calls, attend meetings and do research. As a result, I maybe spent one-third of my working time on writing, or about 10,600 hours.
My hours mean I’m proficient in news writing and have reached a professional level there.
It does not mean, as I’ve learned from my research and conversations with other writers, that I’m at that level in creative writing.
This would require another 10,000 hours.
Two years ago, I began tracking my novel, short story, blog and poetry writing hours. I averaged 5 to 10 hours a week, but sometimes wrote 0 or 15, depending on my schedule and motivation level.
If I take 10 x 52, I get 520, or slightly above 500 hours of creative writing time a year.
Given my on-again, off-again relationship with writing, I probably am halfway to the 10,000-word mark. This means, as I’m editing my fourth novel, “The Fire Painter,” I probably have to write a couple more books to reach the experienced professional level.
Writers get published before or after they put in the hours and life experience, plus studying of the craft. This occurs as a result of luck, persistence, networking and writing ability, plus final product. What it means is writers are treated as professionals when they are published, even without the experience to back it up. Whether or not this is fair is not the question.
It’s just the way it is in a competitive market.
And writing has to be about the love, plus putting in the hours. What comes of it is the gift.