Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Who will make it and who will not?

I have come to believe, deep within my central channels, that the above is not a question of talent … but rather a decision backed by stubborn perseverance.

So I’m just back from a writing conference during which I survived some potentially demoralizing opinions about my book idea. The truth is I’m thankful for the experience because the reality of the “worst that can happen” is actually far less terrifying than fear of it. Fear only comes with the unknown. I now KNOW the worst and guess what? I’m still breathing. What’s more, I’m still writing I think, in part, because I believe writing is a skill. The nature of skills is such that to be successful at them, they require practice. Lots and lots of practice.

To illustrate, I have to pause to talk about a book my husband made me listen to on a recent road trip entitled, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, Gladwell discusses the rule of 10,000. 10,000 is the number of hours it takes to become a phenomenon in a certain arena, to become what most of us would consider hugely successful. He discusses Mozart, who, by the time most of us considered him a genius at his craft, had already been composing for nearly twenty years. It's only the work composed after that amount of time that is hailed as extraordinary. It just so happened Mozart started composing when most of us were learning to read so by the time he hit his early twenties, he'd already acquired amazing musical proficiency.

Gladwell also discusses Bill Gates, who, by the time the software wave was about to crest, had already been computer programming for 10,000 hours because he just so happened to go to a high school that had time-sharing opportunities on one of those early, rare, room-sized computers.

You get the point I'm trying to make. The more a person works at their skill, the better they become. Writing is no different. Consider Ernest Hemingway waking up at 6 AM every morning and writing until noon. That’s six hours, seven days a week. Without fail. How many of us can say the same? How many of us are willing to put in that amount of time despite outside distractions and demoralizing disappointments?

So while it’s very easy to get paralyzed in your writing with destructive questions of, “Am I going to make it or not?” it would serve you much better to just make the decision you are going to make it … and then do the work. One way to tell that you are going to be a success is if you are still writing after a disappointment.

So how about you? What kinds of disappointments have you written through?


Sandy Elzie said...

Good morning Julie,

I've written off and on since I was in the single digit age bracket, but got serious in 2001. I wrote after high school after a creative writing teacher told me I wasn't very good. I've written after receiving rejection after rejection letter.

Don't listen to others...listen to your inner self...that little voice living inside who say. I can make it, I can make it, I WILL make it.


Debbie Kaufman said...

Don't you dare let that stop you from writing.

Fascinating post. You are always one of our more creative bloggers, girl.

The idea of the 10,000 is really interesting.

Kelly L Stone said...

This is a great post and very motivating. 10,000 hours seems like a lot but if you keep writing, over time, the minutes and hours add up. Thanks for the reminder!


CiCi Barnes said...

I was elated when I pitched my very first book to an agent and she said send me a partial. My heart was crushed when I got a rejection letter several months later saying she would have to pass on representing me.

Now, four books later -- as you can see, I worked through that disappointment -- I can understand why she passed. I've learned a lot since then.

My mother used to tell me that 'can't never could and won't never will'. I love that quote and repeat it often when I'm feel like I'm not making progress.

Also, when hubby retired, he second-guessed that decision because he said he felt he'd just learned how to do his job for major success.

I'm lucky to have such incouragement in my life even when I fail. I keep plugging, because I've seen others do it and finally succeed.

Why not me? Why not you?

Dig out of the disappointment, J, and keep on working. Success will come.


CiCi Barnes said...

Yes, I know encouragement begins with an e. I'll be sure to proofread before sending out my next manu.


J Perry Stone said...

Sandy, I totally agree. Some people may see my certainty that I will be published as a function of deluded arrogance.

It isn't.

I'm just listening to my inner self, like you said.

J Perry Stone said...

Debbie, thank you. I need a little encouragement.

And you have to get that book. It's fascinating (and made an 8 hour trip go by like that *snap*).

J Perry Stone said...

You're so right, Kelly. 10k is about 5 years of full writing days.

In that book Gladwell also talked about the Beetles and how before they took off in the States, they attended a music festival in Hamburg for about 3 years. During the festival, they were required to play 8 hours a day. Because the audience was foreign and savvy, they really had to stretch musically in order to capture their attention. By the end of the festival, the audience stayed in their seats whereas at the beginning, they'd leave early.

J Perry Stone said...

"Can't never could and won't never will."

That's damn right, CiCi. Your mother's a smart woman.

And I love what your husband said. It fits right into the pattern I'm seeing in terms of success and skill.

And why not us, hm? I'm just going to assume, "Yes, definitely us."

Stephanie J said...

So timely and strange because I was talking about just this thing yesterday. I used to have this idea that I just had to write. It took me awhile to realize I have to work at it and continue to work at it. Sometimes we want our passion to be easy to achieve but you're so right, we need to do the work.

The rule of 10,000 is really interesting. I've never heard of it until now but it's something to think about!

Marilyn Baron said...

My daughter just finished Outliers and loved it. I haven't read it yet. Your post was very inspirational.

I've persevered despite rejections after requests for fulls and partials for numerous manuscripts but I'm stubborn so I plan to keep on keeping on. I find that conferences recharge you and keep you on course.

Marilyn Baron

Nicki Salcedo said...

I write because I like to write. Probably the same reason why Mozart composed. The difference is his singular vision and mine is split in so many different directions. I was able to write a little bit more than usual this month. Sometimes traveling is a good thing. 10,000 hours? Nah. Rather be a good mom and wife and mediocre writer right now. So maybe the things that get in the way are my dissappointment? I will continue to ponder. Thanks, JP.

Susan May said...

I had over 300 rejection in all kinds of forms before right publisher picked up Nick's New Heart. Keep at it. I know you have talent. You will find the place for it and who will appreciate it.

Carol Burnside said...

Just remember that the opinion was one of many. That person wasn't bowled over, the next may think it has great possibilities and just needs tweaking. This really is a subjective business. Hugs, girlfriend.

Let's keep plugging away at those 10,000 hours. Perseverance is the key!

J Perry Stone said...

Stephanie said, "Sometimes we want our passion to be easy to achieve"

Hell yes, cuteness. I don't know what it is within me that balks at the prospect of having to work at my passion ... but if I don't, I'm going to stagnate. I know this intellectually. My heart still wishes for the easy way up though.

J Perry Stone said...

Marilyn, it really bowled me over. It's not my usual fare, but I gained so much from it, I think I need to branch out.

How did you cope with a rejection after a full request?

What's your grieving process?

J Perry Stone said...

Nicki, my father, who is a classical musician, has always said that genius has its own motivation. But I'm not sure what comes first, the chicken or the genius in that I'm not sure if genius was spawned by obsessive practice or if obsessive practice sprang from genius.

Either way, I have the same issue you have. My vision HAS to be split and if it comes down to writing and family ... well, there's no contest, is there?

J Perry Stone said...

Susan, you are my hero. You are exact example I need to hold before me.

You made the decision you would succeed (otherwise you wouldn't have continued striving), and you did it.

J Perry Stone said...

It IS subjective, Carol. That's the reason for so much of my confusion. And yet it is the subjectivity that gives room for continued hope despite my letdown.

Thank you so much for the encouragement.

Tammy Schubert said...

Great post.

I've written through rejections and am still at it. I don't plan to quit either.

Susan, you are an inspiration.

J Perry Stone said...

You are going to make it, Tammy. Your continued effort is proof.

Tami Brothers said...

I actually have a copy of an article that says this same exact thing on my wall at work. I'll have to look at it again and see if it is by the same person. I know it seems like a lot but I can attest to what Cici said about seeing a diff in that first ms and the current one I'm working on.

I know it's tough, but don't let those words discourag you for long. It's okay to roll around in the dull drums for a short period, but you have to climb out and clean up eventually. The longer you procrastinate, the harder it is to get that "mud" off...grin...

Keep writing, JP. Anyone who reads your posts will know that you are well on your way.


Janga said...

The 10,000 hours idea is interesting, J, but I have to point out that all those examples were men, who had some woman taking care of the essentials of living while they put in those hours. I think it's harder for women to claim that kind of time.

That's why I love stories like those of Anna Campbell and Deanna Raybourne who persevered for years and years before acceptance. I know one day J Perry Stone will, like Anna and DR, be a splendid example of a writer who persevered and succeeded.

Kim said...

Oh my darling, JP. You are a tough, strong, smart woman. One of the few people in this world that I hold myself up too. You file this "opinion" under the been-there-done-that file and move on. Keep writing, keep perfecting. As you said, now you know what the worst is. Time to move on. I believe in you, sweetie, and I know you're going to get there.

I haven't heard of the 10,000 but it makes a lot of sense. You have to put the time in, you have to polish your craft. Keep at it.


J Perry Stone said...

Tami, I'd be interested to know about that article. Let me know and I greatly appreciate your support.

J Perry Stone said...

Janga, that's a VERY good point. Here I am, husband at work, trying to "claim that time" with children running around the house. My son is trying to skateboard in the house and my daughter keeps using the phone to call her grandmother ... LONG DISTANCE.

How the hell am I supposed to work on character development of my characters when I'm busy working on the character development of my offspring??

And I, too, love hearing stories like AC and DR. I have no doubt about you either.

And i love your new blog:


Everyone, Janga generously put PFHT on her blog-role.

J Perry Stone said...

Kimmie, I am not the sort of she to be held as an example. I'm more of a down in the trenches sort.

But your friendship will always lift me up.


Darcy Crowder said...

J - Great post! I've never heard about the 10K hours, but I have heard that the first 1 million words are practice. I'll definitely be checking into the book Outliers.

I'll repeat what other's have said already, please remember this bad experience was just one person's opinion. How many other's have given you positive feedback? Focus on that. You've crossed one more bridge on the path to success. Remember what Eloisa said at the conference? Use the emotions of your life experiences in your work.

Anyone who's had the pleasure of knowing you knows that you're great at what you do & dedicated to your work. You will succeed.

J Perry Stone said...

Darcy, you are the sweetest. You really are.

And I can't believe you said to use Eloisa's advice. That's exactly what I'm doing and I think (I hope) it's changing the emotional pull in my book. It also really helps to be around people like you. I feel such tremendous strength and support.

Yes, definitely get Outliers. It's written by the person who wrote Blink and Tipping Point.

Anna Steffl said...

You are totally right. It takes time to learn a craft. Look at it this way --

Almost anyone can drive a car.

How many people can repair one, let alone design one? Did they learn this skill/art overnight. Would you want to drive a car someone built overnight?

Same thing with books.

Great topic. We're all in the same boat and it ain't sinking.

Linsey Lanier said...

What a timely post, J. I'm going through some disappointments in other areas of my life right now and your words were encouraging and inspiring. Thank you for that.

10,000 hours, hmm? I think I might be a little past that. Maybe it takes a few thousand more for some of us. :) Or maybe it's easier to found Microsoft than it is to write a publishable novel.

I, too, have long believed that writing is a skill that can be learned and improved. Yes, there is talent, but that doesn't mean squat without a lot of hard work. Keep at it!