Wednesday, April 7, 2010

10,000 Hours to Greatness

If we can believe Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, then you’ll be an expert poet after 10,000 hours of practice.  This boils down to 19.23 years at ten hours a week or two hours five days a week.  This is a lot of writing but it gives you some idea of the amount of effort it takes to get to the top of any craft or art.  That’s part of the reason the air is so rare among the best.

I first began writing verse in high school and I got into it because I liked it and because I thought it was easy.  As time went on I was seduced away from my simplistic view of it and into poetry’s thrall and the wicked amount of work and study it takes to write real and really good poems.  If it’s easy, you ain’t doin’ it.

Hugh Ogden was both a mentor and a friend.  He was also an excellent poet.  Over lunch I asked him what the most difficult part of being recognized as a good poet was.  He replied that people didn’t appreciate the amount of time and effort it took to become successful; the amount of blood and sweat and disappointment that precedes good writing.

When I tell you to write a lot, I mean WRITE A LOT.

When I tell you to write often, I mean WRITE OFTEN.

When I tell you to read a lot, I mean READ A LOT.

Don’t wait for inspiration—it will come.

It is difficult to learn to let the poem have its own way, to let the gods lead and it takes a whole lot of writing to learn this.

Calculate how many hours you’ve spent writing and how many more it will take to get to 10,000 hours.  Don’t include pondering, planning, reading—just the time spent actually putting words to paper.  Then figure out how many hours a day you need to put in to get to that ten thousand.  Then do it.

The only way is to write, so WRITE AND WRITE AND WRITE, GODDAMIT!!

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