So I’m trapped at yet another one of my spawn’s high school required viewing events. This time, it’s a band concert. I’m scrunched into an auditorium chair clearly built for teenage bodies, playing with my phone like every other parent, and waiting for the shuffling and scraping of chairs, instruments and music stands to finally still and the director to tap tap tap his baton and make the magic happen.
But what is this? Tiny pre-pubescents take the stage. Tonight, we are “honored” to have the eighth grade band perform. This allows the youngsters to listen to the high school bands and give them something to aspire to – how lucky are we! (Insert collective stifled moan of the audience.)
As we listen to the program of beginner middle school band climb up the ladder to Freshman, Concert, SWAP and then finally Wind Ensemble, I notice the improvement of both quality of play and difficulty of the selections. There is a significant change from the squawking noise of the eighth graders to the fluent mesh and gel of Gazelle Girl’s band playing the evening’s last number. The years of practice and maturity is reflected in the beauty of the music.
Which, of course, makes me think of how this relates to writing. (Because what doesn’t, right?) Specifically, I think of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and his 10,000 hours theory – the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master a particular skill.
It’s never more relevant, nor more clearly demonstrated, than at a band concert featuring beginners all the way through to a premier high school band.
From the squeaking reeds and sour notes that make your eardrums bleed to the harmonies and rapid note-play that make your pride swell, the 10,000 hours of practice example is displayed.
Compare this to writing. How does Gladwell’s theory work in your creative routine? How many hours a week do you spend butt in chair, hands on keyboard? The math would be overwhelming (so I will spare Lady Dee), but even if you do a rough mental calculation, you’d realize it’s not something that can be achieved quickly. How many hours do you think you’ve put into your writing compared to where you are currently in your career goal of being published? Are you like me? Hunt and peck your way through a story that may take a couple of years to write? (My whole life, I may never achieve 10,000 hours!) Or do you grind them out, working every spare minute and laughing at the absurdity of a mere 10,000 hours? How are your hours adding up? Do they test the theory, or prove it?
We like to scowl and grind our teeth at these perceived “overnight” success stories – authors who hit a bestseller list with their first novel. But stop and think. Did they *really* get it SO right the first time? Or are there several novels collecting dust (and racking up hours of writing time) shoved under the bed that didn’t make the cut? The latter, methinks.
Practice makes perfect. That’s been howled into your skull from day one. Every writer starts out like that squeaky eighth grader clarinet, splitting a reed and making ungodly noise until they firm up their lip and tongue and hit the notes precisely. It takes practice and determination. It takes reading and education. Just as the beginner listens to the master high school band, so does a writer read an award winning author – to give us something to aspire to. To give us a goal. To give us a purpose to stretch ourselves and reach.
And how do we do this?
Tick tock. Get writing, my friends.