Monday, March 02, 2009

Ten Thousand Hours

If you want to get to the top of your game, natural talent won’t be enough. You’ve got to put in the hours – 10,000 of them.

Reading the article linked to above really made me think. I tend to dabble. In fact I think dabbling and procrastinating are two of my big talents. I was heavily into patchwork, then I started writing poetry, then I got side-tracked from both by genealogy (though I still think of myself as a poet) and there have been plenty of other interests along the way.

But I get to the point where I'm not satisfied with the level I'm at, and I think I tend to attribute that more to lack of a major talent than to lack of effort. Ten thousand hours? It's a lot. Especially for someone with a day job, and household responsibilities as well. Ten thousand hours of a forty hour a week job is about two thousand hours a year, or five years. For an hour a day pastime, or an hour a week, it's a lot longer - let's see - an hour a day five days a week would be forty years.

Of course the ten thousand hours figure is for the very top level - Nobel prize winning novelist, Olympic gold medal sportsperson, world renowned concert pianist. It probably takes a lot less than that to get to a fairly decent level of competence, but still a lot more than we allow for in our culture where, too often, we expect to be multi-talented and well-rounded.

Some of us would no doubt be bored if we stuck to one thing. I believe it's a valid choice to diversify, but we have to be realistic about what we might be giving up.

So, I am soberly considering how much I want to be a really competent poet and how much time I might need to put in to achieve it.


Links for today:

Great to see New Zealand poet Emma Neale (who won last year's Takahe poetry competition) featured in Poetry Daily (The last link there is the one to Emma's actual poem)

Following links from other writerly blogs, I came across expat New Zealander Martin Edmond's blog, Luca Antara, and this post on the 99 most frequently used words in An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English. An intriguing list, which one of his commenters promptly rearranged into a sort of a poem. (The words are arranged alphabetically on the blog post, it would be interesting to see them in order of frequency)


20th Century Woman said...

An artist I admire a lot, Jim Dine, once said he was going to draw for 8 hours a day for a year. Well, something like that. That's about 3000 hours. The first thing I thought when I read that was, I'd love to do that, but I'd need a wife. Since I don't have one of those, I guess I'll just hone the modest skills I have after allowing plenty of time for my wifely duties (and messing around with little projects and wasting time). And I've always meant to try embroidery and quilting. After all, I'm only 77.

Anonymous said...

I don't know that I believe statistics like that one. I just don't think there's a formula that is quite that simple.

Catherine said...

I gather the person who did the research on concert violinists found that it was fairly accurate. It may not be so true for some fields, but in general, I think people expect to be successful too quickly - "work harder" is probably a good guideline.
It used to annoy me when I was doing patchwork to find people who'd taken it up within say the last couple of years starting to teach classes, and the gaps in their knowledge were huge.

Kay Cooke said...

Thanks for the news that Emma got into Poetry Daily, fantastic. I seem to have lost a bit of momentum after a whole lot of time devoted to poetry over the past few years ... I might have sickened myself of it for a while ... Just being honest!

paris parfait said...

10,000 hours sounds a bit overwhelming. I'm not sure that really applies when it comes to writing, art or photography. But diligence does matter and I can be a champion procrastinator. Persistence is the key, not the number of hours, I think.