On the first day of a creative writing course I took, a classmate raised his hand and asked the instructor, “Do I have enough talent to make it as an author?”
“Most people quit,” the teacher replied. “Talent doesn’t matter as much as stick-to-it-ness. If you keep writing, you’ll be around when most have stopped.”
Malcolm Gladwell would agree. In his book Outliers, he says, “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.”
He goes on to relate a study by K. Anders Ericsson and some associates. At Berlin’s elite Academy of Music, instructors separated the student violinists into three groups:
- Stars - those who might be world class soloists,
- Good violinists, which to my understanding were those who were competent and could earn money by playing in groups, but not quite first chair material, and
- Talented Amateurs - those who might teach, but would never play professionally.
In this study, researchers interviewed all the student violinists and discovered that the major difference between the groups was the number of hours they practiced. By the age of twenty, the talented amateurs had practiced for four thousand hours while the good violinists had racked up eight thousand hours and the stars had logged in ten thousand hours.
Further Gladwell states that study after study of expertise has found that the number needed to achieve excellence in performing a complex task like writing a novel, or conducting a symphony or whatever is ten thousand hours. That’s roughly three hours every day for ten years according to Gladwell’s calculations (38).
Many people don’t want to practice ten thousand hours and like my former teacher said, “Most people quit,” so if we simply press on and continue to press on, we’re likely to succeed. One of the most encouraging things reported in the K. Anders Ericsson’s study and in Outliers is that researchers didn’t find anyone who put in ten thousand hours of practice and didn’t end up at the top. Conversely, no one effortlessly sailed into the star-world class group without putting in the huge amount of practice hours (39).
I’ve dedicated lots of time to creating stories and studying the craft of writing. Am I close to the ten-thousand-hour mark? I’ll let you decide. I’ve just published my first book, Other Than, a Gaslamp Fantasy that features zombies, steams flowing with rubies and a vampire Lord. Here’s an excerpt.
Chilling as a January draft, the statue’s eyes drilled into Evie. Let him be.
“I will not help you.”
Why ever not? I’ve helped you, kitten. Several times we’ve had our little mouseling cornered—yet you let him go and now you’re endeavoring to release my chosen tiger.
Without a doubt. Her gaze sought Victor. “Stay with me.”
Victor stumbled. His steps reeled as if he were in his cups. Evie hoped, part of him battled to return to her. She tried to follow and found her feet planted. Her knees locked as if the Maiden had clamped a giant hand around her, but Evie was a skin-slider—a being versed in mental combat and a master of her own flesh. She gritted her teeth and fought for control.
You resist only because someone sacrificed a life for you. A life easily stripped away.
Shuddering, Evie let the thought hang.
Victor stumbled to the statue and fell to his knees. He flung his arms around the stone. “I can’t lose my hands.”
Jaw tight, she strained. Suddenly in a sensation like ice cracking off her skin, Evie’s body returned to her. She rushed to Victor and crouched beside him.
The statue’s brows lowered. Her sculpted eyes sparked with hatred. One would think we were enemies. Persist and we shall be.
Evie had made her choice. This lovely tormented man was hers. She had to save him, all of him, including his hands. She grabbed his chin. Turning his face, she pressed her lips to his. Skin-to-skin, her resolve and defiance transferred, as did her growing affection.
He blinked, then blinked again. The stunning corona of his irises strobed then snuffed out. Brows popped upward while wonder widened his wholly blue, wholly Victor eyes. “You love me?”
“I do.” Evie swallowed hard. Time to tell a lie and make it count. Convince herself as well as Victor. “The Maiden’s refused you, but you can rely on me. I’ve studied with the Moorish Master physicians and know of a poultice. Poultices are the strongest healing remedies.”
“Honestly?” Voice as buoyant as his brows, he leaned toward her.
“Honestly. Come.” She flashed him her brightest smile, grabbed his wrist and took advantage of his momentary daze to tug him into the hall. “We’re going to the conservatory.”
He shook his head. “Jessup’s concoctions don’t work.”
“This won’t be his. It’ll be mine.” An assurance she struggled for internally rang true in her voice.
Last chance, kitten. Turn Around. Return my tiger.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt and I’m hoping I’m close to crossing the ten-thousand-hour threshold. It doesn’t matter. I’m determined to continue. It’s also my aim to inspire you to keep on doing what you love.
Pressing on and working hard are things I tell my students as well. When I’m not writing, I’m teaching English or reading. Online you’re likely to find me at:
Facebook- fb.me/ Mia.Jo.Celeste
To check out Other Than, click on these links.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: the story of success. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2008. Print.