1 Million Words or 10,000 Hours?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success, he repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to success  in becoming an expert in any field is a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of 10,000 hours.

With the current indie-publishing boom, I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of advice from writer’s embracing the “10,000-Hour Rule”, which states it takes 10,000 hours of focused writing practice and study to become a publishable writer.

As a numbers guy  that doesn’t seem to add up for me. Here’s why:

  • First, to put 10,000 hours into a budding writing  career it would require you work at your writing for 40 hours a week for 5 years. Even if you only wrote for 1,000 hours a year, you’d have to write for 2 hours and 45 minutes every single day for 10 years. You and I both know that ain’t gonna happen. Life has a habit of getting in the way.
  • Secondly, let’s say of the 10,000 hours, 5,000 hours are used for reading, studying and attending classes and the other 5,000 hours are spent solely on writing. Now to be conservative, let’s say can type 45 words per minute on average; writing over those 5,000 hours you will have written 13.5 million words. That’s almost 169 eighty-thousand-word novels averaging 320 pages each.

Unless you’re Dame Barbara Cartland (723 books) or John Creasy (564 books), it’s unlikely most of us will ever write that many books.

I once saw Ray Bradbury talking about the writing process. He said you must write a thousand words of story every day and in three years, you will have written a million words. At this point, you will be a writer.

Following Ray Bradbury’s advice, you will spend about 23 minutes a day writing story and you will have spent about 385 hours writing by the time you’ve turned out 1 million words. This is advice that is far more reasonable. Besides, it worked well for Ray…


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