Today is the beginning of National Novel Writing Month! I’m very excited because the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest was so much fun and I’m dying to see what happens when it is expanded to 30 days. I know it won’t feel the same. The 3-Day experience over Labor Day weekend was amazing. It was my first time and it was a blast. The most important things I learned were… 1) Turn off the phone, 2) Turn off email, 3) Write. In the end I produced a 26,000 word novel “Any Man’s Death” and submitted it. So, 50,000 words in the month of November shouldn’t be a problem.
I love deadlines. I love creativity under pressure!
There was a wonderful Think Out Loud that propelled me into the contest. The topic was (surprise surprise) Creativity Under Pressure and it reminded me what a rush it when you have a strict timeline and have to produce. Also I think that most of us reason that creativity is something outside our selves, something that comes to us like the mythical Muses, and not something that we work at.
Yet I disagree. I don’t think creativity is like a lightning strike – I think it is a process like anything else. Once that can be learned, honed, and strengthened. Truly creative people don’t have one idea – they have gazillions. They try and fail, try and fail, ad nauseum. They aren’t successful because of a lightning strike and luck – but because they worked for it and had timing on their side.
In “Outliers: The Story of Success”, Malcolm Gladwell looks at the “stories” we tell of successful men and women and how that differs from the reality of how they get where they are. The point of most interest for this discussion is how hard you work at your craft.
Get your 10,000 hours in!
If you want to be great at something you have to spend 10,000 hours doing it, if you want to good aim for 8,000, if you want to be okay 4,000. Doesn’t matter if we are talking about a computer programmer, writer, musician, lawyer… you need those hours. Practice, do, practice do… repeat. The harder you work the better you get… but the magic number appears to be 10,000 hours.
Good writers don’t just write – they write obsessively. Good musicians don’t just practice – they practice obsessively.
Now there is nothing wrong with wanting to be pretty good. I’m pretty good at a lot of things – I was a pretty good actor, a pretty good dancer, a pretty good opera singer, scientist, teacher, project manager….and while I was being pretty good I got to experience a lot of life, different people, different professions. It was great! I didn’t have the drive to spend 10,000 hours at one thing. I wanted to be everything.
But that’s changed now – I’m working on my 10,000 hours.
The more I write, the better I write. The more stories I tell, the better I get at telling them. The more ideas I use, the more ideas I come up with.
There are some concepts that you read and they stick with you… for me it was the idea of “Failing Faster”. In Robert Sutton’s book “Weird Ideas that Work: 11 ½ Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation” the weird idea that spoke to me the most was failing. In his chapter about “reward(ing) success and failure, punish(ing) inaction” he talks about rewarding intelligent failures and to “remember that innovation is largely a function of productivity”. Later in the book he talks about killing failed ideas quickly but not reducing the rate of failure. Failure is okay and as long as you keep trying it can be the road to success.
I think of it as throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks.
So how does this all relate to the 3-Day Novel Contest and National Novel Writing Month? It’s simple really – I think, for me, creativity and productivity are related to assured outcomes. It is incredibly difficult for me to write a story knowing that the odds are against publication. But if the object is the process and the outcome assured (I get certificates for each of the events/contests) then suddenly I’m reveling in the journey not the destination. Ideas flow and are weeded out, pruned back, and harvested. There is pressure, there is a deadline, and there is something I can say I accomplished.
Strangely enough – it is enough.
So I feel that I am working on my 10,000 hours – because I want to be a great writer – and I am failing faster – trying different things, genres, methods, formants and styles. And I’m using contests, events, and this blog to get me there.
Thanks for joining me on the journey!