I don’t know of any serious writer who doesn’t have a bottomless drawer with projects that just didn’t go anywhere. Completed novels, plays, film ideas, poems, all in the bottom drawer, wasted. But was that really a waste of time? I don’t believe so.
One of the myths I had to overcome from childhood was the idea that the author sits up in a room, fireplace crackling, and in solitude crafts their novel and it is instantly published to fame and fortune. I was a child then and growing up as a writer, I had some hard lessons to learn.
Writers cannot work alone, we need feed back, and we need loads of practice. All those hours spent on novels that will never sell are not wasted words on paper, they were serious practice for the writer to come.
A few years ago when Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, was published, he wrote of research done at the Berlin Academy of Music. The researchers took the students and divided them into three categories, the violin stars, the good performers, and the ones who would become violin teachers and not performers. What they discovered was the one prediction of where a violinist was destined to fall, was simply the hours of practice.
Apparently, the violin teachers to be, practised some four thousand hours during their lifetime. The good performers put in some eight thousand hours. The stars of the violin world, put in an astonishing ten thousand hours. That works out to be four hundred and sixteen days, sixteen hours. Four hundred and sixteen days of one’s life to become a star. Four hundred days of solid twenty-four hours of dedicated practice. That’s astounding. I know when I was a piano student, I averaged about three good hours a day, and that was only during the week. At that rate if I had continued in my studies, it would have taken me only twelve years and about nine months to become a star! Twelve years!
So too with writing. Every novel, all those hours spent were valuable hours spent on the journey to becoming a writer. The art must be learned and learned through practice. According to Gladwell, there wasn’t a single violinist who had practised those ten thousand hours that wasn’t a star.
So what does this mean? Will a book never sell before those ten thousand hours are put in? Of course not. Luck is involved, but every writer becomes the writer they were truly meant to be only after hours and years of practising their beloved craft.
It’s not just the lonely hours that are required to become a writer, it takes a strong desire to want to achieve it and not abandon hope. It takes an unshakeable belief that you can achieve it, but most importantly there has to be the enjoyment of trying to achieve it. Without that, those hours spent alone with characters and words, writing becomes merely tedious work. With the enjoyment of the process, writing becomes a glorious existence. That is the essence of being a writer. Now, I wonder, dare I check, and see how many hours more I need?