Dance of the Ten Thousand Hours

I want to be a better writer. This is no small goal, as many authors have observed writing is inseparable from thinking. As such, I’m coming to see that writing as an athletic mental exercise that benefits only with consistency. Hours of reading push-ups and writing pull-ups go into building our own language,  thoughts, and consciousness.

In his book Outliers, Malcom Gadwell introduced the adage that ten thousand hours of practice can transform a beginner into an expert. While the statement was derived from academic research, it was probably more platitude then prescription. Something with as many variables as  musical or artistic proficiency can’t be boiled down into a single theorem. The scholarship on human learning and development is as engrossing as it is immense,  but it doesn’t render obsolete Uses promptos facit, or “practice makes perfect.”

The bottom line is that each of us contains a certain amount of bad art that must get out before we can make our good stuff. The best way to expunge this bad art is to make it. To be sure, we can reduce the number or push-ups and pulls-ups we need with a healthy diet of theory and work from great artists and writers.  Guides are helpful, but if we are to move into a place of making our own good art, their maps are not our territory.  American author Ted Chiang crisply sums up the obvious, “experience is algorithmically incompressible.”

Thankfully, “experience” is also algorithmically incalculable. Intelligence, talent, skill, not to mention emotional and physical training, can’t be expressed as a calculus for computing the arch length of our abilities. Nor can it be reached simply with ten thousand hours of tire rotation. People develop in different fields at different rates for different reasons. This is a consolation to everyone who wants to continue learning and growing. After-all, how many ten thousand hours are there in a life-time?

All of this musing still doesn’t save me from the bad writing that is in my system. So, I’m going to post every day for the remainder of this semester on this blog, focusing less on craftsmanship and inspiration, and more on completion and iteration. Perfectionism is like having around your waist a large rubber band that is also anchored to your immovable fear. The further we pull against our fears, the more the resistance increases. Things get fun only when we make two discoveries: the resistance will never go away, but we can become stronger.

It’s time to get my reps in. 😉

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