Monday, October 1, 2018

October 2018 - How long does it take to become a published author?


For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

This month's question is
"Is it a matter of talent vs. craft in becoming a published writer?"

Two things about talent— 1) Talent cannot be taught, and 2) talent will take a writer only so far. 

As to the writing craft? Craft can be taught and the devices and techniques can be learned. But—and you knew there was going to be a but, right?—the kicker is that it takes time to learn craft because craft enhances talent and liberates creativity. 

Oddly enough, there are writers with the highest ability and degree of talent but who don't write. And then there are those writers who strive for years to learn story, to learn writing craft, techniques, and devices who succeed as published authors and storytellers. So, what's the difference in the two groups? It's desire and drive.

Or at least that used to be the norm. Actually, these days anyone who writes anything can self-publish overnight. Craft and good storytelling isn't in such an equation. The proof is in the 4,500 books a day that glut the marketplace.

If you want to write well and tell a story well, sell books that readers will thoroughly enjoy, you'll need to understand how much talent you were endowed with and weigh it against your desire to tell stories vs. the quick, overnight fantasy of becoming "a rich and famous author." 

To enthrall readers and sell books means putting in the writing time and learning how to overcome your talent weaknesses. How much time? Figure a million words and The 10,000 Hour Rule.

What is The 10,000 Hour Rule? Simply stated, it takes roughly 10,000 hours of work—hard work—and diligent practice—in any field to become accomplished. This doesn't make you the best, but it certainly does make you highly skilled and savvy.

It doesn't matter if the field is sports (like swimming, dressage, or soccer) or a particular profession (veterinarian, surgeon, or engineer), it takes time to learn skills. It takes time to practice and experiment with techniques and devices. It even takes time to digest the failures because those provide valuable knowledge and insights.

Because there are 144 aspects to a novel, and no one can learn everything overnight, The 10,000 Hour Rule for a writer translates into roughly five years. However, that only makes a writer "accomplished." To make the expert-author league, triple or quadruple that. Yes, there are those one-in-a-billion people who become overnight successes. If you're one of them, more power to you. The rest of us, well, we take the long and winding road to success.

Here's the thing, writers are basically self-taught. They learn by reading how-to books, attending workshops, taking courses, actively interacting (talking) with successful writers, and getting reliable feedback on their works in progress. And they write and write and write. As Sol Stein said, "A writer is someone who cannot not write."

Unfortunately, because of the ease to vanity publish* with Amazon or Smashwords and others, far too many writers skip the learning aspects of fiction and storytelling. What further complicates things these days is that the burden of quality and comprehension falls squarely on the shoulders of the writer. Just ask readers. And don't forget, readers who sample poor-quality stories don't usually buy another book from that author.

So, I encourage you to take the time necessary to learn and become a terrific storyteller.

* To Vanity Publish means paying a company a fee, or full costs, or giving them a percentage of sales to produce books, videos, music, academic journals, or other works. (In my opinion, Amazon.com has for many first-time writers become their vanity publisher.)

~~~~~~~~~~ November 2018 — The Inciting Incident (where the story really begins)

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2 comments:

Janet Wells said...

Your five years to be an "accomplished" writer resonated with me. In the teaching profession, we said "It takes five years to learn to be a master teacher."

Catherine said...

Thanks for sharing, Janet!