helenhemphill (helenhemphill) wrote in thru_the_booth,

Over the holiday break, I decided to read outside my norm. Usually, I read fiction--juvenile, young adult, and adult fiction, with a picture book or two thrown in. But my dear husband reads only non-fiction. For Christmas, I gave him a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, but I have to admit before he even had a chance to open the book, I sneaked it from his office to read it first. Outliers is the story of success. The book looks at what makes a person successful other than intelligence and ambition (both givens I suppose in super achievers). There's a lot to this book, but what struck me most is that Gladwell tracked how successful people take advantage of the opportunities around them and then practiced, really practiced their craft. Gladwell notes that there's a 10,000 hour rule in the backgrounds of really successful people--10,000 hours of practice, or about 20 hours a week for ten years.

For example, Bill Gates happened to go to a school that offered an opportunity to write computer programming. He took advantage of the opportunity and found out he loved it. In fact, he became obsessed with writing code and spent much of his teen years in the computer lab at the University of Washington. By the time he was at Harvard, he was ready to jump into the world and change it forever.

Same idea with The Beatles. Early on, they played ten-hour gigs in Hamburg bars. Playing amid the noise and the indifference, they had an opportunity to work on their own music, reinvent cover songs, and figure out how to seduce an audience. By the time the band played Ed Sullivan in 1964, they had thousands of performance hours. They had worked hard to be ready for that moment.

Now it's a given that all these guys have talent. But talent alone isn't enough. It's about tenacity. Working the craft. That's exactly the same story I heard from Kathi Appellt at a SCBWI conference last fall. Kathi had written scores of rhyming picture books and an assortment of other really good prose, but she had never written a novel. But she was ready. As a poet, she knew the sound and lilt of words. She knew how to construct a story because she had written tightly-structured picture books. And she knew it would take deep work and revision to make her novel manuscript perfect--still more practice. As we all know, The Underneath is a novel that raises the bar for writing quality in children's books.

So that's my challenge to all of you. Are you taking advantage of the writing opportunities around you? Are you working your craft? Are you making your manuscripts as perfect and polished as you can? Being successful as a writer (or just about anything else in life) is about taking advantage of the opportunities around you and then digging in and working hard. Do you have 10,000 hours of practice?

Hummm.... let's get going!

To leave an inspiration, here's a video that Tracy Barrett send the Mid-South SCBWI List Serve. Thanks for the link, Tracy. Do you think these guys put in a few hours? Tomorrow, a few words on what practice really means. Anon. H.

Tags: craft, helen hemphill, kathi appelt, outliers, practice, the underneath, writing

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