One million words or ten thousand hours?

pileofwords So, most of us will have heard the old adage about writers having to write one million words before any of our work is considered good enough for publishing.  Whilst some of you may subscribe to this notion (I personally don’t), isn’t it possible that it may not necessarily be the amount of words written, but the time taken to write them?

I noticed an article on the BBC website about a chap in Oregon called Dan McLaughlin who, after a particularly bad game of golf, sparked an idea about how to get good at it.  The more he read into this, the more a figure of ten thousand hours seemed to appear more and more often.

There is more about the story and how he plans to spend ten thousand hours playing golf here, but it did get me thinking about how that transfers over to writing. 

  •        If I wrote out the same word enough times to take up ten thousand hours, would that do it?  Or would it just make me an expert in that particular word?
  •        If I took a number of books off my bookshelf and copied them for ten thousand hours, would that do it?  Or would it just make me an expert at typing, or copying?

The point I’m trying to make (and understand) is how can hitting a ball with a golf club make you an expert in golf and not just hitting a ball with a stick?  If I can decipher the difference between what elevates ‘golf’ from the action of hitting the ball well, then I can use that to help me understand what elevates ‘writing’ from just putting words together for a specific amount of time.

As it stands, I feel I have an advantage over the chap who is learning to play golf as I know I’ve already spent ten thousand hours or more writing due to the following reasons;

  •          I’m in my forties so I’ve been writing for around 40 years
  •          I’ve held jobs that required me to write technical documents for a number of years
  •          I’ve completed dissertations for my BSc and MA in recent years
  •          I’ve written poetry, short stories and ‘bits’ of novels
  •          My most recent novel stands at around 80,000 words with over 20,000 words in notes

Yet, I still don’t feel that I’m in any way an expert and, after he has completed his ten thousand hours, I doubt he will either. Mainly because I think it’s difficult to nail down what makes us an expert anyway.  The Oxford English dictionary defines expert as ‘Having or involving a great deal of knowledge of skill in a particular area”.

question-markBut how is that really defined?  Will the golfer need to win a single event?  At what level?  Will he need to get a particular score?  Or does he just have to be able to play fantastic golf on a Saturday morning with his friends?

Similarly, as a writer, do we have to get one short story published?  A novel?  A trilogy?  Or do we just have to grasp the use of words enough for people to think ‘he knows how to write’?

I’m sure there are many more layers in this and that I’ve provided very shallow arguments / statements in my post,  But, until I can get confirmation one way or the other, I suppose we just need to wait until I either get published, or he wins a PGA event!


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