On the Long Division of Talent

So, apparently, there’s a book (This is Your Brain on Music) out that talks about creativity and expertise.  The author, Daniel Levitin, writes:


“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of
practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a
world-class expert–in anything. In study after study, of composers,
basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess
players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and
again. Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or
twenty hours a week, of practice over ten years. Of course, this doesn’t
address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others.
But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was
accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to
assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”


Conventional writing wisdom also has it that you have to write a million words of crap before you’re on the right track. 


The annoying, logistical part of my brain tells me (after informing me that blogging doesn’t count as “real” writing, and that I should get back to the Norse saga I’m working on) that those two numbers mean you only have to average a hundred words an hour if you want to be an “expert” and not write crap at the very same time.




2 responses to “On the Long Division of Talent

  • Laura Goodin

    Did you know that 78 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot?

    A friend of mine was once dissing a very unpleasant acquaintance and said, “She keeps saying she’s studied martial arts for 20 years, but she hasn’t. She’s studied ten years and then done the eleventh year ten times.”

    What I’m trying to say is, I’ve heard that million-words thing before, and I think it’s crap. Everyone’s got different strengths, and while cranking out sheer wordcout has its place, it’s not what makes your sentences better. It’s just what makes you better at cranking out wordcount. (Important, but not what in itself makes you a better writer.)

    — Laura “in DC, listening to my NPR radio friends, life is good” Goodin

  • christophergreen

    Agreed, all of the numbers are arbitrary, but I do think the million word thing does a service by pointing out that a constant, consistent level of effort is a useful thing.

    Besides, I passed a million words a long time ago. Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V = I win at life 🙂

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