Writing Wrongs

October 24, 2006

I found this on Stephanie Bose’s blog. It’s called What It Takes to Be Great and oddly enough, I was reading it while Andrew was struggling with his violin last night.

Reinforcing that no-free-lunch finding is vast evidence that even the most accomplished people need around ten years of hard work before becoming world-class, a pattern so well established researchers call it the ten-year rule.

What about Bobby Fischer, who became a chess grandmaster at 16? Turns out the rule holds: He'd had nine years of intensive study. And as John Horn of the University of Southern California and Hiromi Masunaga of California State University observe, "The ten-year rule represents a very rough estimate, and most researchers regard it as a minimum, not an average." In many fields (music, literature) elite performers need 20 or 30 years' experience before hitting their zenith.

When I mentioned to Andrew that I’d been writing for about ten years, his face lit up, as though he thought that an editor, at that moment, would knock on our door. It was very sweet.

Through the whole process, one of your goals is to build what the researchers call "mental models of your business" - pictures of how the elements fit together and influence one another. The more you work on it, the larger your mental models will become and the better your performance will grow.

So they’re talking about business here, but substitute “novel” for “business” and you get: "mental models of your novel" - pictures of how the elements fit together and influence one another. Works for business, worked for Napoleon (well, you know, mostly), and I bet it could work for writers as well.

I have some other thoughts as well, especially about deliberate practice and how it applies to writers, but I’m still mulling those over. More later.

Charity Tahmaseb wrote at 10:30 a.m.