Note: This is part 2 in a series of 25 articles from my upcoming 'Writing for Success' series (NEW: Buy the book HERE).
2. Become a Successful Writer in 2,000 Hours
I've read before that it takes about 10,000 hours of doing something before you become an expert at it. I consider myself an expert in Project Management. I used to be an expert in computer programming. I'm getting towards being an expert in writing.
10,000 is a lot of hours. It's about 5 years of working an 8 hour, 5 day week with a few vacations thrown in. Or if you write at, let's say 1,000 words an hour, it's 10,000,000 words of writing. That's a lot! Personally I think a better target would be about 2,000,000 words because if you wrote that many you would also have spent several times that editing and re-editing your work. I guess I've written close to a million words over my writing lifetime, but I'm not absolutely certain (I can definitely account for about 800,000). Either way, it's a lot of words.
How many words have you written during your writing career? Maybe you're on your first book, maybe your second. And let's say you've also written a few poems and short stories and a couple of articles and letters. Maybe you've written a total of 150,000 words. Still a long way to go to become an expert! Yet many authors consider they know everything even when they're nowhere near being an expert. I know there are still many things I can learn.
What sort of advice do you take? What books do you read to become a better writer? Who do you turn to, to get feedback? If you're that 150,000 word writer you certainly need to be taking advice from somewhere. And practicing. Practice makes perfect, so they say. Certainly practicing will hone your skills and help you learn the secrets to better grammar and plot development. You need to put in as many hours as you can in order to get better.
When I look back at my early works I cringe occasionally at what I wrote. Not that it was bad per se, but I know I could write it in a better way now. It's also not to say I'm ashamed of my first books, of course not. Every writer needs a first book and every successful author has one. Stephen King for example wrote about 10 full-length novels before his first one was successful. Then later he went back and re-edited some of his earlier works. It's a normal process.
As way of an example, what do you do for a day job? How long have you been doing it? What were you like at the beginning? Writing is just like that. It's not enough to have a good story and to know a little about writing, you need to put in your time to become an expert.
Successful writers have been writing a very long time. They didn't just wake up one day and write a book, having never written anything before, and then become successful. They put years into their writing, writing short stories, poems, and unfinished novels. They probably started writing when they were a child. I know I did, and I have all these other things too!
Try writing a list of everything you've ever written and add up the words. See where you are. Then do everything you can to crawl up that word experience ladder. Write some stories, just for fun. Experiment with formats you've never tried before. Rewrite something you wrote a long time ago - from scratch. The important thing is that you're just looking to get more experience. Then give these short stories away to friends to read. Get their feedback. Or even better, try and get an established author to critique your work for you.
But most important, don't get despondent. The road to success is just one of putting in the time. You can and you will succeed if you do the things necessary and learn all the lessons. Reading all the essays in this book and then putting them into practice will keep you on track.
And one more thing. Believe in yourself. Writing can be a very lonely job sometimes and it's normal to have periods of self-doubt. Those periods usually come after you've written something and then go back and re-read it a little later. You say to yourself "is this really any good?" Let me tell you a little secret. If you're writing a long story or a novel that will take a long time to complete, don't re-read it as you go. Trust yourself. Sure, you may need to check something in it from time to time, just don't re-read it all. Then, believe it or not, when you come back to the finished product a month or so later, it will be so much better. Stories have a way of maturing on their own sometimes. They just need a little time in the dark untouched to do so! (We will be covering this topic in more detail in another essay).
2,000 hours. You know the target now, so get writing!