Monday, July 14, 2008

The Learning Curve

Posted by Lisa Marnell

There is a learning curve when acquiring skill. It is said a person reaches a level of expertise when they have completed 10, 000 hours of practice. No matter the endeavor…

Piano Playing


Thai Chi

Underwater Basket Weaving

I’m convinced this holds for writing fiction as well.

Four years ago, I decided to write fiction. I hadn’t heard of the term “story arc”; when it was mentioned in a seminar at my first Muse & the Marketplace conference in Boston, I pictured the Wizard of Oz and the tune Somewhere Over the Rainbow bopped in my head. Character development meant nothing to me. Plot, I got. But subplot? What’s that? I’ve come a long way. All of us at the Writers’ Group have come a long way.

In reading recent work by one of our members – last night we all agreed that the quality of her prose is astounding - there was a time when I simply had to stop reading. Over the course of three pages, the beauty, the cadence, the imagery of her writing simply overwhelmed me. I sat and I breathed and savored the moment. She’s honed her skills in the four years I’ve known her. When her book is published, it will be such a delight to those unsuspecting readers. I am so so proud of her. So inspired by her, as well.

Damn, she’s clever!

Assuming a person writes an hour a day, seven days a week for four years (what I’ve done give or take), she will have completed a whopping 1,456 hours. There’s still a few hours to go before reaching that magical 10, 000 hours. Bummer! I’ve still got a way to go.

My point here is that writing skills evolve over time. Though sometimes four years or six years or fifteen years feels like a long time to be working on a book, it’s time well spent. It’s time spent learning. It’s the money in the bank, deposited day by day.

That’s reality. That’s the writing life.



Anonymous said...

10,000 hrs.
There are many miles before I sleep.

Anonymous said...

Good lord. I am, by nature, not a patient person, but I've managed more than one year in this writing life. I think I've probably averaged an hour a day. Annie Dillard says to expect to spend at least five years on a novel. Give me 5.8 more years to learn the craft, another five to write the darn thing, and I can only hope I've inherited my grandmother's genes that will let me live long enough to see the day!

Joanne said...

Four years, six years, fifteen years on a book ... the beauty of it is that in a writing life, the craft becomes part of your days, part of you.

Lisa said...

I wonder if you are talking about the beautiful prose I was so lucky to read over the weekend in an ARE I got in the was beautiful, poignant, sad and the characters in the story might well haunt me forever.

I feel much the same sentiment you do. It will take as long as it takes for me to learn my craft and find my groove. I'm patient. You four are an inspiration to me.

sky said...

i came across your blog quite by accident - i loved your post. i think it makes a lot of sense. i know i could sense the difference in my writing from chapter 1 to chapter 12. the more i wrote, the more i learnt how to write.

writing always has been an extension of my reading habit and as such i guess i started writing as a kid. but when you start adding discipline to the process, the outcome is quite different altogether from just random words that escaped your head earlier.

Anonymous said...

I came across a large box of papers while cleaning out an upstairs closet today and was overcome with grief when I realized it was two or three very early drafts of my first novel. I didn't read very much of it, but I couldn't help notice all of the work I must have done! I thought back to all of the hours I spent on just those versions. The highlighting and slashing alone was impressive, not to mention all of the scenes rewritten on the backs of the pages (many of which were long ago cut out). When I mentioned this sorrow to my husband, he knew what I meant: What if after all this time and effort, this story never gets published?

"What's the big deal? You loved doing it," he told me. I knew he was right, but it wasn't until I read today's blog that I really realized that the box I found today was actually a treasure. And, though it may have been a lot of paper and years, if 10,000 hours is a magic number, I am still in the infancy of my writing life. :)

Lisa Marnell said...

I am so pleased this post hit home with others.

Tara - I nearly cried when I read your comment. I didn't realize for a long while that the time writing, editing, re-writing is time well spent (like taking course after course in school). Now that I realize that time wasn't time wasted, it fills me with a sense of calm.

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