In an effort to win the heart of Zelda Sayre, F. Scott Fitzgerald finished his first novel, This Side of Paradise, at age twenty-three. Truman Capote caught the attention of Random House publishing with his story Miriam, just shy of his twenty-first birthday. When Ernest Hemingway was twenty-six he wrote The Sun Also Rises, and Mary Shelley completed the manuscript for Frankenstein at nineteen. Perhaps it’s just my own insecurities leaving me feeling rather inadequate with this knowledge, but I suspect I’m not alone.
Let’s start by acknowledging that we’re probably not as naturally gifted at writing as the once-a-generation aforementioned authors. Pause… whew. Now that we’re alright with that we can move on to becoming good, possibly great, writers. There’s one problem, though. We want to be good, possibly great, writers right now.
Writing, a Profession
A recent trend has become common among writing teachers and writing bloggers and within writing circles that we are writers simply because we choose to write. If you hold a pen in your hand or a keyboard at your desk, you are a writer. While this ideology has proven valuable for creating the identity of a writer, it has also performed a disservice to other professions.
For a commercial airliner to even consider hiring you as a pilot, you’ll need to have logged approximately 3,000 hours of total flight time, including at least 1,500 hours in a multi-jet engine, and at least 1,000 hours as pilot in command of a turbine powered aircraft. These are just the minimum requirements, and anyone that’s ever been up in a single engine plane will tell you that an hour in the air takes much more effort (and money) than an hour at the keyboard.
Consider doctors. After undergraduate school for pre-medicine, there’s the Medical College Admissions Test, then four years of medical school, then 3-5 years of residency.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book, Outliers, he suggests the key to success in any field is a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of 10,000 hours. Bill Gates spent 10,000 hours programming before graduating high school. The Beatles performed live 1,200 times from 1960-1964 before making it.
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t logged anywhere near that many hours of writing yet. So why do I expect to write like a professional?
Read, Write and Be Patient
If you’ve been around The Write Practice for a while, you’ve probably seen this quote from Stephen King: “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” Read books ranging from James Joyce to J.K. Rowling to R.L. Stine. Take the good and the bad and learn from them. Mimic their writing styles to find and perfect your own.
Find time in your schedule to write. Most people don’t have a schedule that allows them to write all day, so whether it’s here for fifteen minutes or waking up a little early before your regular job to work on a story, remember those hours add up.
Most of all, be patient. If a man has aspirations to be a skilled carpenter, he won’t want to give up if his first time in a wood shop doesn’t produce a beautiful armoire. Unless you’ve put in your time and effort reading and writing, you shouldn’t expect to write an incredible short-story or novel on your first attempt.
Do you get frustrated that you’re not as good of a writer as you would like? Is it possible you just haven’t put in the amount of time needed for quality writing?
Write about someone who expects to be a master at an art, task, or profession although they have little experience. Be sure to include the frustration that ensues.
Write for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback on a few practices from other writers.