Friday, 17 April 2009

Family ties

Apparently my paternal grandfather's great aunt was George Eliot. I wonder if I have inherited my writing genes from her - after all, I've inherited my love of the outdoors from Grandad.

The only problem is that I have a great deal to live up to. You see, I don't just want to be a good writer, I want to be a great writer. That's one of the reasons that I'm not submitting things to publishers just yet - I want to learn the trade. I do not just want to write one good novel, I want to write great novels.

Malcolm Gladwell claims that to become an expert in anything you need to do it for 10,000 hours. This apparently holds true for Mozart, the Beatles, and many others. Whilst there are many valid arguments to be made against his claims, it seems like an interesting target to have.

So what does it mean? If I am in the flow then it takes me roughly an hour to write 1,000 words, and at least another hour to edit those words. (These figures are almost certainly under-estimates). That means to reach the 10,000 hours I would need to write 5,000,000 words.

So far, I have written about 750,000 words. This figure will be a large underestimate - it does not include this blog, my website or any of the other writing I do. It also does not include any of the other peripherals of writing - the planning, characterisation or research. That 750,000 words would mean that I have been writing for 1,500 hours. It certainly feels like more.

'Devices' was the first attempt that I made at writing a novel four years ago. I spent half an hour reading some of it yesterday, and it is quite amazing how much my writing has improved. The law of diminishing returns means that another 1,500 hours will not cause a similar increase in quality, but there will be a corresponding improvement. I started off writing from a very low base. Although my command of English was fairly good, there is much more to writing than being able to string together a coherent sentence.

This does not meant that I will want to write for 10,000 hours before going to a publisher. I will submit stories to publishers once I believe that they are good enough. I am reading extensively (the book reviews on this site should give an indication of the breadth of my reading), and am aware that my writing is already better than some of those books. Sometimes the books are so bad that I do not even bother reviewing them.

All of which is great fun, but rather pointless. A bad author could write for 10,000 hours and still produce rubbish, whilst a novice may produce a brilliant piece of literature as a first book. But both of those are outliers. If practice makes perfect, then all I can do is practice.

No comments: