Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The 10,000 hour club and other musings.

I've never read Catcher in the Rye, never read anything by J.D. Salinger, never seen a documentary on him, though I might try to find the documentary Bonnie talked about in her post on Monday, where she certainly gave us a lot to chew on.

She made a very good observation when she said the media called him a hermit and recluse, yet the life he lived was only selectively hermit-like. I'm sure Bonnie's correct in that his part-time withdrawal from public life may have been partly "because he understood his capacity to be a dangerous man ..." But I'm taking a guess when I say I think he was probably also a media snob. He wanted his fame and fortune, but on his terms.

Like so many other famous people we could name.

Well, in all fairness, who of us doesn't? Who of us writers who dream of best-sellers, book tours and movie deals---and struggle with envy for those few who do achieve those things---don't want fame on our own terms? But is that realistic? Is it fair? We aggressively woo fans, hoping they'll buy our books and support our writing habit ... so long as they keep their adoration at arm's length? There's something very one-sided about that to me. Yes, I understand the need for privacy and safety and boundaries, but in my opinion, those who step from private life to public life have an obligation to the ones who help them achieve their dreams.

I know, easy for me to say since I'll never achieve the kind of fame we're taking about. I just don't happen to be a fan of elitism, or snobbery on any level.

That said, I'd like to address the other part of Bonnie's post, the 10,000 hours part. If the premise is true, that would be 416 days of round-the-clock, non-stop writing to master the skill. Taking my average weekly writing time and multiplying that to the 10,000 hours necessary to master a skill, I figure it took me 13-15 years of writing to reach that milestone. Like Bonnie, the thought of considering myself a master is laughable. But trust me when I say I've come a long, long way in 28 years, which is how long I've been diligently at this writing life.

And I have to believe if, after all those years of striving, I'd managed to gain even a tiny fraction of  the fame of a J.D. Salinger, I think I'd show more appreciation. At least I hope I would.

My musings aside, I have two questions for you:

  1. Do you fear the fame you may be courting?
  2. How long has it taken you to reach the 10,000 hour club --- or where are you on your journey?


Selina_C said...

I reckon last year, which was a big year in terms of time devoted to writing, I spent around 800 hours writing. I have been writing, perhaps a quarter of that amount, for twenty or so years. So I have racked up maybe 5000 hours of writing. Am I halfway? Not sure. Do reading about writing and writing for work or study count? I would guess they do in which case add, say, 7000 hours. Now this is getting silly.

This suggests that you need to write full time to achieve mastery, or spend forty years at it. Yet Austen did not even live that long, and Dickens and Trollope started out with full time day jobs.

I regard a figure as a good, high target to aim for, to scotch the notion that writing is something you can just do well without craft or effort. But I also say that talent must form part of the title of Master, or many of our canon masters would find themselves cast off their podium, and there would be little hope for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

I must respectfully disagree with much of what you write here, but I"ll stick to one point. As you say, you don't know much about Salinger, except from your colleague's post earlier this week.

So, no. He wanted neither fame nor fortune. He lived modestly for a very long time. Through a modern lens, I would not be surprised in JDS were diagnosed as "on the spectrum," and physically and psychically awkward with attention.

I won't go in to the myriad reasons I know this to be true, but as an avid reader of his work and works about him, he inhabited -- and protected -- his work as if the characters were living, breathing human beings. And to many readers (Chapman as the most vivid, and sad example) they were real. He wanted to put it all in a judgment-free bubble.

I think reading Salinger is an undertaking you would benefit from, especially before writing about him.

Megan Sayer said...

Wow, that one made me pull out my calculator. By my reckoning it'd take me about 25 years to achieve mastery, which had me worried for a few minutes...and then I remembered I've been writing stories since I was six, without many breaks. So those early hours may not have been brilliant, but hey, I've clocked them, right?

I also can't believe you've never read The Catcher In The Rye - I LOVED that book. I only discovered it after reading W.B. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe, which is also the reason I developed an interest in baseball. Oh Sharon, you SHOULD read Shoeless Joe - not the least because he writes JD Salinger in there as a character too :)

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I won't claim that I've attained celebrity status in my writing career. However, I've had a few kind of creepy situations with readers that left me feeling exposed in a not so comfortable way. My first novel dealing with issues of abuse and sex trafficking opened doors for people who asked FAR too personal questions of my own life...questions that would be considered extremely rude if asked of about anybody else. I also had a reader call the person to whom I dedicated the book to ask questions about her life, also far too personal and intrusive.

Did I open myself up to that in writing such an emotionally charged book? No. I don't think so. I wrote the novel so that the reader would see into realities of the world, not so they could poke around inside my experience (which has not included the kind of abuse some think).

I suspect that Salinger experienced much of the same. Of course, he didn't have email or Facebook with the instant access those mediums afford. He did, however, have fans following him and stalking him around New York (one of them a friend of mine, actually). That's rude. My friend even admitted it later. It's also extremely creepy.

I've just had a few nibbles at the fame possible in this industry. For an introverted, extremely personal gal, it overwhelmed me. I do my best to be courteous, but I don't welcome certain interactions that try to dig into my private life. It's just too much.

As for the 10,000 hours, I just figured I've hopped over that milestone recently. That was working 20 hours a week for the last ten years. I know I've had some weeks of 60-80 or more hours and other weeks of little to nothing (newborn twins slowed me down a lot). I totally don't feel like a master. I still feel, as my friend Lex says, like a "punk kid" pretending at the game. I don't know that it's altogether a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

1. I'm not interested in fame and I'm a private person. I write in two genres, and one of them in a pen name. I don't mind online connections with folks, but if I reach a certain level in my career, I'd still prefer an interactive online presence to in-person appearances and finding my name/photo in a newspaper. I think that one can develop an online family of readers without becoming a "public" person where everyone knows your name. Sure, the author might not make as much money as JK Rowling, but there are priorities and tradeoffs in every career choice.

2. I'm still growing my hours.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

My writing is not because I pursue fame. I write because I have to. It scares me off publishing when I hear of rabid fans. But I would hope I could guide them to the true Object of Worship. I hope God shines through my work so that they see Him and not me.
I write by God's inspiration. I believe with all my heart that I couldn't put a single word down without Him. So do His eons of authorship count toward my mastery? ;)

Sharon K. Souza said...

Selina, I completely agree. And, yes, I believe everything we read on our craft, every conference we attend, add to our skills. But Bonnie was so right when she said we must Read. Write. Read. Write. Don't stop.

Anonymous, you seem to know a lot about Mr. Salinger. I appreciate your comment and for setting me straight. You may be anonymous, but I hope you won't be a stranger to our blog.

Megan, the fact that you've been writing stories since you were a young child shows you have the gift. Every subsequent hour of writing hones the craft, helps us discover who we are as a writer. That's so important. I wandered in a genre wilderness for a long time until I began to write Women's Fiction. That's where I found my sweet spot.

Susie, I know there's so much truth in what you said. And I didn't mean that a celebrity of any kind should open themselves to the crazies, and there are so many of them; just that there should be more appreciation from them once they've arrived.

Suzan, I'm right there with you, on both counts.

Bonnie Grove said...

Anonymous: I think you are right that Salinger was deeply freaked out about the attention he received from the public. That is balance with the fact that he wanted, very much, to be seen as a first rate writer and to have his work published in the New Yorker. That, to him, was the hight of literary achievement and he worked for years to achieve that.

He may have tested on the spectrum--he certainly seemed to have suffered with difficult social and somatic symptoms. There can be no doubt he suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the horrors he witnessed and endured in WWII (he had some particularly difficult and gruesome assignments). It's fascinating to know that all through his European tour he carried six chapters of Catcher with him, and his fellow soldiers often had to stop the march because "Jerry needed to write something."

The good news for fans is that starting as early as next year, new stories of his will be released for publication.