The prompt for the week is “no.” Not “no” as in, “no, don’t eat that piece of chalk” or “no, don’t dump milk all over your baby sister,” but “no.” as in short for number.
Which is a dangerous topic for me, because I’m like that guy who does a few oil changes on his own car and then decides he’s capable of fine-tuning the engine, or the one who successfully builds an IKEA side table and then tries to build his own back porch complete with gazebo. I know a little bit about numbers, and I’m kind of fascinated, but I haven’t taken any math classes since high school.
Nevertheless, you can count anything, right? And numbers matter, don’t they? There’s the old bit about needing ten thousand hours of experience to get “good” at something that I heard somewhere. If that’s true, how long should I expect to have to plug away at this writing thing?
I aim for an hour of writing a day. That’s theoretically 365 hours a year, which means it’s likely to take … ugh … something like 28 years to log 10,000 hours that way. But I only do my capital-W project-related writing on weekdays. So make it more like 37 years.
But surely, I can count writing on the blarg toward those hours, too, yeah? Well, I’m not as regular there (needs me some blogging fiber, which is a joke that only somebody over thirty could appreciate), but maybe I can claim about two-three hours per week. Which reclaims the years I had to add to make up for the weekend. So we’re back at 28 years.
But wait, do those 10,000 hours have to be dedicated to becoming better at the thing, or can they just be hours spent doing the thing?
If it’s just the doing and not the actively trying to improve that matters, then I logged a heck of a lot of hours writing assignments in college and high school. Has to be enough to get that 28 years down to 26.
And then I wrote a cough-splutter fantasy novella in high school (180 pages in number-two pencil on college-ruled paper, now that was dedication), not to mention a bunch of crappy stories. (These are all lost to the mists of time now, which may in fact be evidence of a benevolent God.) Let’s be generous and give me another two years. 24.
Oh, and there were the plays I wrote a few years back. Hard to quantify that time because I worked when the mood struck me, but surely it’s good for another couple if not trio of years. I’m liking the optimistic feel here, so call it 21 years.
Which is maybe not so bad.
But wait again! With a mental task such as writing, surely time spent planning and plotting and pondering my stories counts. I think it’s safe, then, to double my time over the past two years and bump the timer down to 19 years.
And if time plotting and pondering counts, then surely time reading writing advice counts — that’s learning after all. But at that rate, if reading counts, it’s impossible to argue that reading stories that have inspired me to write wouldn’t count.
And then the floodgates open. Reading has got to be good for at least 5,000 hours of my life, and that’s a conservative estimate, to be sure. And that means I’m just a thousand hours or so short of Mastering Writing Forever.
Which is nonsense, of course.
Measuring these things is a mug’s game. It’s like asking how many birds are in flight right this moment in the world. Surely it’s a question with an answer. A correct answer, even — one that could theoretically be measured. But it’s a nonsense question just the same, because the means for measuring such a thing simply don’t exist. And you can no more measure the actual productive time you’ve spent in an endeavor than you can measure all the people in the world whose eyes are closed. The information is there, but we can’t know it.
And that means we can’t live in fear or doubt or frustration at the information. There’s no finish line. There’s no ticker-tape parade when you reach 10,000 hours of practice, or 5,000, or 1,000, or five. All we can do is keep plugging away, keep practicing, keep doing.
Math may be an intrinsic part of everything, but these things we do are much, much bigger than math.
This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.