I wrote in the last post about meeting Belinda Del Pasco, the marvelous artist and human being. When I meet someone who seems to be successful at what they do, I fall into “interviewer” mode, also known as brain-picking. I asked Belinda how many hours a day she worked at her art. Her answer was 10-15! (Hope I got this right, Belinda.) My first reaction was a gulp of dismay. Then a jolt of reality. No wonder she’s so successful. And no wonder I’m not. I was reminded of the “10,000-hour rule” which postulates that much success in any field can be attributed to the sheer number of hours one expends on the job, game or skill. For an enlightening discussion of this idea, see Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. Belinda did go on to qualify her answer a bit, saying that a lot depends on the type of task she is performing and that for some tasks, she is not able to maintain that level of work, but when she is in “flow” the hours disappear. It gave me a lot to think about, and of course, some of those thoughts were self-critical.
But the next morning I realized I was making a mistake. One trap writers and perhaps others fall into, is comparing ourselves to others. We look at our fellow writers and see those who are more successful, more productive, more prolific, more popular, more confident or making more money. I have writer friends who somehow always have the next speaking engagement lined up or seem to have an inside track on finding receptive markets. It’s all too tempting to try to find out what they are doing and then try to write what they are writing or do what they are doing. But I can’t and it probably wouldn’t work anyway. I am the writer I am, and must continue to be, wherever that leads me and however much or little success it generates. On the other hand, I know I could do more. I could spend less time reading the millions of books I want to read, less time playing word games, less time socializing with friends. (Well, that one would be the hardest.) I could spend a bit more time piling up those hours, and making sure they were spent in actual writing, not shuffling papers or dreaming of success.
So, I counsel myself, No, resist the trap of comparing myself to others. But, Yes, give more thought and significance to the “10,000-hour” rule.