Most of us, especially when we’re new, want our first short story to be a major contest winner or our first novel to be a runaway success. That’s natural. Of course, this is not reality for us mere mortals.
Just like most of us never picked up a violin and magically busted out a flawless rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee, most of us won’t sit down and write a work that hits the New York Times best-seller list the first go round (or that sells a bazillion copies on Amazon, if you’re an indie).
Yeah, I was bummed, too.
Writing, like most other things, follows the Law of 10,000 Hours (Read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for more). 10,000 hours of dedicated practice/work/study/training seems to be the magic number that separates the successful professional from everyone else.
Whether it is gymnastics, ballet, playing the ukelele, or writing, practice is key if we want to become masters of our pursuit.
*shock face* :O
This is why we need to write as often as possible, and it’s HUGE reason I am a proponent of writers learning to blog. Blogging can help accelerate the path to mastery, and has an added benefit of helping build a lasting author platform that can help drive sales.
History demonstrates time and again that it takes roughly 10,000 hours (or a million words, depending on who we listen to) to reach the status of true artist and masters of our craft.
Additionally, most authors write at least three books before they start seeing success, which is part of why successful novelists like Bob Mayer, Joe Konrath, and John Locke are constantly telling writers to do less tweeting and more writing. They’re correct. Write, write, write. Great to have a social platform, but we need books to sell or the platform is merely a monument to our Facebook skills.
Guess how long it takes to write three novels?
About 10,000 hours.
Three books minimum.
Thus, all you indie/self-pub authors who put your first book up for sale and you haven’t sold enough copies to buy tacos? Keep writing. 10,000 hours. 3 books. Traditional authors? Three books. Rare is the exception.
The more we write, the better we get (ideally). If the first novel is “eh” keep writing. To paraphrase some Monty Python:
I wrote a book! …and it sank into the swamp.
So, I wrote another book! It, too, sank into the swamp.
So, I wrote another book! …. And it caught fire, fell over…and sank into the swamp.
But the fourth book, THE FOURTH BOOK STOOD.
Happy writing! And follow The Dork Side on Facebook if you want to laugh regularly.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Disagree? How much practice do you do daily? How much did you write before you started actually thinking your writing was any good…and other people didn’t run away bleeding from the ears?
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
NOTE: December’s winner will be announced Monday.
And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of January I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.
Reblogged this on Thea Atkinson and commented:
I just love love love this blog of Kristen Lamb’s. If you’re interested in ebooks and marketing as well as branding, a bit of really tongue-in-cheek humor, you gotta go look up this Texaschick.
Great advice. Somehow that owl picture really creeps me out. I think it’s because I could see owls really doing this. Maybe it’s from watching The Birds too many times. *shudder*
HAHAHAHA! I love the Monty Python reference 😀
Great advice as always! *gets off internets to write the next bestseller*
Man I love you, Kristen. You speak the truth like some frothing, sweaty small church preacher.
(Well, except you’re hot, educated, and a lot more fun to listen to.)
Great compliment all round, LOL *Hugs*
Agreed! You’re blog has been an excellent and welcome resource!
I agree. After five years I have almost finished the final rounds of editing on a debut novel I have been working on and each and every time I return to it, I cringe at what was put there last. Even Stephen King expressed disdain for his first published edition of The Gunsling (book one of his grand opus The Dark Tower) and expresses this disdain in a disclaimer before the revised edition of that same novel. In his book On Writing you also get insight into the difficulties he himself experienced while attempting to get published while working as an English teacher at a local High School. If it takes Stephen King multiple tries, imagine how many it will take us. Still, how awesome would it be to have him as your English teacher!
I completely agree. It took me (ahem)…well, a LOT more than three books to start seeing success. However, during those three books I was lost in my own world and had no idea publishing was such hard work. The writing was just too fun to see anything else. After several more books, though, THEN (yeah, I’m kind of slow), I realized there was more to it all. Yes, you have to practice, practice, practice, but also make sure you’re growing with each book, not just putting out the same old thing. Read craft books, blog, follow blogs where people know what they’re talking about, write another book, get feedback (harsh feedback if need be), and repeat as long and as often as necessary. Thanks for this post!
Thanks Kristen. I have heard the 4th book is the charm. That’s really cool, because I’m at that stage right now. First novel released 8/2012, second will in 2/2013, third just got picked up and will release in 2013. This means I’m about to pen my epic novel which will put me on the map! You have made my day.
I’m on the second run-through of my second novel. I am getting better, but practice does make – well, better! Your advice is spot-on – and quite funny. Thank you!
Love the owl picture but feeling a bit sorry for authors who feel they’ve only got one book in them. Not that I’m one of them, but I don’t know where I’m going to find all those extra hours – in my spare time. Most authors are also in full time work, or as in my case, full-time parents.
well, I have 3 novels out, but I don’t reckon I’ve spent anywhere near 10,000 hours to accomplish them, even with notes, research, and editing.
Either that means that I’m some kind of savant genius, or that my books all suck.
Well, almost all my reviews are 5-star, so I’m going with the genius thing.
Even still, I fully agree with the practice makes perfect theme, and that the true masters can only be those who have invested themselves to a profound degree in terms of time and energy. Regardless of whether or not any of my books break out, I will keep writing them, and keep striving to improve. If you are going to do it at all, might as well do it with everything I have. There is no room for half-assery in this business.
Eventually, I will surpass my 10,000 hours mark. But what is the benchmark at which we may declare mastery? I suspect I will never find it, because I don’t aspire to declare myself expert, I only aspire to write well, in a way that pleases me and is a blessing to others.
I find a distinct joy in being able to look at my most recent book as my finest work, and know it is true, and yet I still know that my finest work is yet to come, and my masterpiece of today will be my amateur-hour of tomorrow. Maybe the greatest part is simply the anticipation and wonder of how strong my next work will be… and I can hold such hope, because I know I am investing myself as the true masters do.
And I have such good stories yet to tell.
This is some good advice. If I hadn’t given up the pursuit of fiction, this would get me up and running for sure. I’ll be sure to pass this along to others who need this sort of pep-talk… pep-post.
Oh, I love those adorable owls! Had to go over and Like the Dork Side. I’m blogging about the same subject this week. I’ll link to this post. Great one, Kristen!
Kristen, this is a great post. I have to keep reminding myself I’m building something slowly, and the idea of 10K hours for mastery is a nice, factual data point to keep me grounded. I have a question–do you think other kinds of writing, like blogging, really translate to fiction? I think my blog posts and the hundreds of sermons I’ve written for my day job maybe count as half-time in the equation that will get me to 10K hours writing novels. Thanks!
As a writer only halfway through her second book and trudging through rejections for book one, my initial response was, “Ah, man!” But then the sun pierced though the darkness! This is yet another solid piece of guidance to keep my priorities right. (Write first, Twitter later) Writing is what I WANT to do!
I can honestly say I like this blog, there are no ADD references having attention deficit as well as being dyslexic I find the slang use of either of these cognitive differences misleading. I liked this blog because it was real and helpful.
Well, as usual, I (albeit respectfully) disagree. You can do anything for 10,000 hours and still not be very good at it, but of course no one wants to hear that here! There are many writers who will say “I did it! I put in my time!” and still write unreadable drivel while assuming this has made them “masters.”
I’ve published two non-fiction books and the second did a lot better than the first; the first is about women and guns and the second about retail work. In the seven years between their publication, I did a lot of writing, (as a professional journalist), which no doubt helped, but so did growing personally and professionally, which changed how I see and write; the economy; my industry contacts…It’s rarely just about the writing. This year I hope to sell two more NF books, so we’ll see if they suddenly make a huge difference.
The larger truth is — if that’s all you care about, writing for income is going to make you insane. Very few writers will ever have some HUGE hit and make a lot of money. They are aiming for the wrong thing. I play softball and treat my writing career the same way — I’ve focused every year, since 1978, on hitting a solid stream of singles, doubles and (coveted but rare) triples. If I focus all my energy on hitting a home run, fuhgeddaboudit, as we say in NY.
Yup, book #3 was the first one for me that I thought was halfway decent – and that was after I completely rewrote it a couple times.
I’ve now published three books, and just finished writing my eighth. Still waiting for those big sales. In the meantime, getting ready to start #9!
I do agree that practicing is the best way to improve. I would also argue that interacting is a great way to improve and accelerate the learning process. I joined RWA last year and the past year has seen my writing improved to the point I cringe at some of the stuff I used to write when I first got started.
I’m working on my third book now. I don’t know that it takes 10K hours to write three books unless you take into account the time spent just looking at the world and living for inspiration. I’ve been writing for three years but think I’m probably halfway through 10K hours. I’m editing my first book (for the 11th time) and promised myself I’d query it this year (fingers crossed).
If I wasn’t already following your blog, the owls hoping for Tootsie Roll Pops would have won my heart. Love your blog and just bought We Are Not Alone…can’t wait to read it! And my 3rd book was the one that actually moved, the first one that hit the NYT list. So you can also read minds or know things you have no way of knowing or are a wizard or something. Thus, you’re terrifying and awesome. 🙂
Oh why must you continue to throw reality into my ridiculous dreams? I have been told the million words thing before, but I can’t remember where I heard it. I probably wrote about 3 million over the years before I wanted to actually write something that could be published. Restarted that count since everything I had written before working with my first editor was amateur and sloppy.
Oh and that Owl picture was awesome!
If you figure you write full-time, averaging 8 hour days, that’s about five years. In reality, I think it takes longer than that for most of us. Another shock face. 🙂 And really, you can practice the craft of writing until the cows come home, but unless you’ve been blessed with a talent for storytelling, then maybe you should write non-fiction. Storytelling is a gift you’re born with. A talent. Like any talent, it needs developed. But it takes more than desire, or luck, or 10,000 hours. If you possess the talent to deliver a great story, then put in more than 10,000 hours on your craft. Do whatever it takes. Even if it takes a lifetime.
I keep that three book advice in mind (After all, Bob Mayer is a really smart guy and I dig his writing advice) but I’ve got to get to the first book before I can worry about the third. It’ll be done this year, though!
The Monty Python reference was great. Thanks for the laugh. I think I wrote 500,000 mediocre words (which, of course, at the time, I did not realize were as meh as they actually were…I have since apologized profusely to any and all crit partners I inflicted such dubious prose upon) to reach the point where I now have writing that is at least publishable. Several magazine and journal articles later, and a world of practise later, this novel might actually be noteworthy.
Meanwhile, I keep on writing.
Girl, I love your voice . . . and your advice. As a plain-spoken writer at FundsforWriters.com , I appreciate someone telling me what to do and how to do it, instead of beating around the bushes. The 10K words mantra is so true, though, When I could not sell my mystery a decade ago, I got disenchanted and focused on nonfiction, which is when I established my freelance occupation. Hundreds of articles later, I’m now a traditionally published mystery author of a series. After a reading, I had a collegiate poetry journal editor come up to me and express his admiration of my prose. I told him that it was my first fiction, and was more comfortable with nonfiction. He said it didn’t matter what I wrote. The time I’d spent writing seriously over the years showed in my fiction. Voila! Proof that the 10K method works.
I agree with what you say in general, hard work is the only way to sucess but there are exceptions to the rule. Though I admit they are very rare, people like J.K Rowlings or other authors who have had a first book best seller. Most of the time as you say, you have to turn up and do the work.
Thanks for your inspirational, humorous post! I knew a fantastic muscian in L.A. and although I was considered a professional musician, seeing as I got paid to play gigs, he was a far superior player. I asked what his secret was. Just play. He said. I pictured the Nike swish and Just Do it slogan, but the swish was my saxophone. And writing. Well. If I am finally into my novel, then I write nightly for at least an hour. My novel is out being reviewed by friends, and now I’m just waiting for all of their comments to come in, so I can start my revision. Sadly, I’ve barely written in the meantime. I don’t want to start another project while my mind is still percolating on the first project. I also don’t want to do any editing until all of the responses are in. In the end, I will need to see what speaks to me, what the consistent likes and criticisms are, and then decide for myself.
My blogging has always been sporadic. I know I need a set time to write to get off my duff. Started The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben again and am loving the simple, get off your butt ideas in there. Have you read it? I think she’s from NY too.
Loved the Monty Python reference. And now for something completely different…
Question – do you think it helps fiction writers to blog (a more non-fiction pursuit)? I have a LOT of writing experience but it’s all technical. I can blog all day about research topics, book reviews, etc. But that doesn’t really translate into making me a better novelist, does it? To do that, wouldn’t I need to blog short fiction stories? Just curious as to your thoughts (and anyone else that cares to comment).
I have written … eleven first drafts, I think, in my life. Or ten. I sort of lose count. So, I’ve written about ten different books. One of those books I have written nine times. Another one I have written three times. I’m currently working on a second draft of another and just today I had an idea for a new one. I also wrote one collaboratively (which is coming out, like, super soon!).
The thing is with me, though, is that a lot of the learning curve is learning about LIFE. I mean, I’m not even 17 yet (but bear with me for two weeks and I will be), so though I’ve written enough books to have had ‘practice’, I’m still improving a lot, and I think it’s understandable that it took me more. Though perhaps if I had sat and edited each one, I’d only have needed four. (But the first few were so bad it wouldn’t have been worth it.)
Thanks for this post Kristen, although at the age of 52 I find it’s a bit of a double edged sword! Having wasted so many years wanting to be a writer but not recognizing (or seizing) the opportunities to build up the 10,000 hours, it’s very daunting to think that’s how long it might take to become the writer I want to be. Work starts now, before it’s too late.
My 8th was accepted. What else do I have to do anyway, but start a new book?
Loved this post! A good reminder especially about having books to sell vs. a monument to FB skills.
Great encouragement. I must be getting close (that’s what my gut tells me anyway). Since I started writing I think I have between 8-10 “books” of various lengths tucked away in a drawer somewhere. They’re from jr high and high school when I thought writing was typing up a handwritten notebook (or 3) and then proofreading for typos and such.
Right now I’m on my 2nd rewrite of a MS that has stayed with me through college. I think I can, I think I can…
Oh, oh! I made enough to buy tacos on my first book, and not just from family members!
*walks around all day feeling special*
there’s always the exception to the rule. Colleen Hoover. First two indie pubs hit NYT, picked up by Atria and optioned for film. 3rd book #1 on the Zon now.
Exceptions remain precisely that…exceptions. Nor do we know how many thousands of writing hours preceded these epic ‘first novel’ sales. Few pick up the pen and create a master work in their first attempt…
I’m sat here trying to work out how many hours it’s taken me to write my three books (they certainly don’t amount to a million words…) It’s probably nearer 3,000 hours than 10,000… guess I’ll have to keep plodding on! 😉
Well, I’m not in a position to agree or disagree. But as someone who is now eligible for social security (who ever thought up that ridiculous term?), and who is just now seriously pursuing the dream, those statistics could be discouraging. Yet, I’ve been writing most of my life–poetry, journalism, research, sermons, and lately over 7,000 pieces on the web (some just a paragraph, some small photo essays). I even wrote our wedding vows. I do have a rich and varied well of life experience from which to draw.
So what counts for those zillion words? I know my strength is in non-fiction writing, and i do have some projects in the outline stage. My secret dream is to write science-fiction though. I took a Gotham course and it was a great kick-start. Kick in the head too! And I still need a few kicks in the pants.
It sounds as if you’re saying i have to write three failures before I can hope to succeed. I’m having a hard time mustering the enthusiasm for writing a failure.
Larry, I’d say you can edit into a failure into a passable work, sometimes even a good work but you can’t edit nothing. I hope you get your dreams.
You do know those nonfiction works will count toward your developing writing skills, which it already sounds as if you have been honing for many years. This is hardly the ‘end’ of your writing career…but perhaps the jumping off point for so many new avenues of exploration. Keep writing. Embrace the adventure.
Thank you so much! I always love opening up your emails with the new blog post. It’s always spot on advice!
So true. Great post!
Kristie shouted to her writing partner, “Look, Robin! Owls!” Then, she dashed to her milk crate filing system and counted up her novels: “Two, no *four* sci-fi, one, two three… five! Five fantasy – with more to come, 2 modern supernatural thrillers, countless poems and a partridge in a pear tree!”
I think I hit the million words half a lifetime ago. So when I actually publish one, I ought to be a best-seller, right? Right?!?
Thanks for another fine blog article, KL. Juice for a writer’s joints, that’s for sure.
Way past three books writen. Yep, I’ll be an overnight success any day now. If I just keep writing. Write Rewrite Edit Submit
Wait, you can make enough writing to buy TACOS?! And here I was just doing it because I enjoyed it.
I love your pic! I have now written approximately 600,000 words to date so hopefully I’m not far off getting “discovered”. I have self published a novel Tomaree and published Crossing Paths: the BookCrossing Novel with a small press.
Hoping I can find a mainstream publisher with my new one. I must get your book We Are Not Alone. I’m Debbie Robson. http://www.debbierobson.wordpress.com
I believe in individual performance must abide by the individual’s individuality and of course there is the living in one’s individual situation and the environment of the individual. One has to deal with their individual situation along with the given conditions surrounding him or her.
I am happy with what I can do given my situation and my environment.
I am still waiting for the publishing houses to accept E-mail submissions and from those, which do not want an agent. I do not have the money to do “indie” in a grand way, but I can write the novel and turn it into a PDF file and send it on as an attachment to a publishing house accepting E-mail submissions.
I like your Blog. – Daniel Escurel Occeno
If blogging is mere for getting something written I think I’m doing fairly well with just writing my notes and stories. And trying to write comments on other people’s stories. Is it necessary to blog? I won’t mind it that much, except I’m bad at promoting myself, but I think I need stronger arguments.
Why I like blogs is 1) it isn’t going anywhere. Year after year you build content that is YOURS and search engines deliver new fans every day. Facebook could implode and Twitter could commit suicide, but the blog is THERE. 2) If you decide to go indie and people like your blog, harvest it for content for an e-book and THAT is what you give away for free with purchase so you aren’t giving your fiction away.
I agree. I have read that Bob Meyer says this. To be a successful author, you have to write book after book. And for indies, ebooks can be slow burners. I know mine are, but they are getting out there.
You cannot be discovered unless someone finds you somewhere. – Daniel
I definitely agree. Just hard to find time to both blog and figure out my fiction voice and style.
It sounds strange but blogging will help you refine and strengthen voice. Fiction or not, voice usually is the same. If you read my fiction you would still know I wrote it.
Good to know…
Fabulous thoughts! OUTLIERS was great. That 10k hours tip was awesome. I also read it in THE TALENT CODE, another great book about what separates the winners from the rest of the pack.
That was it. Off to WRITE!!!
I see your blogging point and raise you another idea. Until they learn how to write it’s better to journal and develop the habit without exposure. Most bloggers suck. The best way to lay word-tracks is freelance writing. Opportunities abound. Small publications, newsletters, anything that gets your name printed is good. Why? Because you lay a lot of words down, get paid sometimes, get published, can’t evoke writer’s block, get professionally edited (Big learning tool) and develop pro habits. There is nothing better than your printed bi-line to instill confidence and motivation. Never stop writing and never say no to any writing job. My advice to newbies:The next time someone needs something written say, “Yes, I’ll do it.”
I totally agree, as always – okay, as usual. Also see Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, which all writers should read and which gives similar advice. And now that I read some of the other comments, I’m not the first genius to suggest his book. Although it bears repeating. So I will. Read On Writing.
This goes back to your whole “writing is hard work” thing, so I totally agree. I have to wonder how far along I am though. I wrote a ton before I actually sat down and wrote my first whole manuscript, but all that other writing was just all over the place, so I have no way of knowing how much there really is. But I’ve even noticed the difference between my first manuscript and my second, so there’s still plenty of room to improve! (There always is.)
Great thoughts. I agree that the more I write, the better I become at the craft. It is hard work, but worth it.
I was telling another writer the very same thing this week. One book doesn’t make you a successful author. Thanks for echoing the message!
This blog is one of my favorite blogs to read. It gives such great advice and it’s so informative.
This is really fantastic advice. I have to remind myself of this every day. It’s so easy to get discouraged, especially when you’re a new writer. But thinking this way helps.
Excellent advice. Practice makes perfect, but somehow we expect things to be easy and require no effort. Work, work, work….again, great advice.
Very nice post, Kristen. You’ve been watching me through those cameras you hid in all our houses, haven’t you? So you already know that I wrote three novels, got nowhere with them. Now my fourth, Due Diligence is being published in March!
How spooky is that?
Expertise does take time, but our reality show loving society seems to want everything so quickly. Well, I doubt my blog posts are going to get me discovered over night, but it’s all part of the process of finding my way back to writing. The Law of 10,000 holds so true. Sure, some people can still really suck at something after doing it for so long, but with enough practice coupled with reflection, expertise eventually becomes the result. For example, I had a B.A. with a Writing Emphasis and an M.A. in English Education, but it STILL took me nearly five years to feel like I was a good teacher. So even though I had all sorts of practice, I didn’t become an expert teacher until I lived and breathed the process of it every day.
The craft of writing is much the same. I’ve been in many college workshops and written a good number of short stories and creative nonfiction pieces, but all that practice did not make me an expert. The practice only prepared me for the path of becoming an expert. And now I have over 200 blog posts. I’m 1.5 years into writing my first book, and I still feel like a newbie writer. Maybe it’s because I know how far I have to go, that I am willing to concede that yes, it will take time to get there.
Expert or not, credentials or without, everybody has life experiences so allowed their one voice to speak out or write about and share it with the world. The Internet gives all those with access the ability to take advantage of their one voice. Anybody should be entitled to an opinion. It is up to the individual reader to decide if the opinion/advice benefits them or ignore it and move on.
When I first started, I was afraid to self-publish and pay-to-print for a thousand paperback books (back then 1998 – $500 roughly), it was because of grammar. Like during high school arguing with the English teacher about a comma, “I really wanted to pause there”; I was afraid my self-published masterpiece was not perfect. I really did not care if nobody wanted to buy my novel and I did not care if nobody wanted to read my novel. I wanted it, perfect.
With the Internet and I can edit anytime on a Blog; the fear is gone. But so is the steady income to pay for printing.
You obviously have the English Grammar background not to worry about commas and introductory elements belonging at the end.
Go Write It!
I am sure you can find another job, but I was told by someone who had written and paid for more than 30 novels to “keep my day job”. She meant it. It was not a rude remark that I was a terrible writer. She meant to have the income from the job to live on and write at night and on weekends, until you can replace the regular salary with the income from writing.
I started out wrting my novel mostly as a challenge to myself. Now that I have two years invested, I want more than anything to get it finished and published–Somewhere! Just completing it would not be enough at this point.
I love your blog. It is full of great words of wisdom (cliche) and helpful hints (cliche, also). It is the only writers’ blog I follow faithfully.
Keep up the excellent work!
You’ve given me hope, Kristen. Thank you.