How Malcolm Gladwell helps writers

Word count: 323 words

Reading time: Just over 1 minutes

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help writers.  

I figure I hit my 10,000 hours of writing a couple of  years ago. But that I know the phrase “10,000 hours” and understand its value is a credit to Malcolm Gladwell. I discovered Gladwell’s work in the late 1990s when I started seeing his byline in the New Yorker. Reading his book The Tipping Point shortly after it was published in 2000 sealed the deal; I became a fan.

I’ve been told by friends (who are journalists) that Gladwell’s reporting is sometimes sloppy and that he over-similifies complicated concepts. I don’t have the expertise to comment on these complaints. What I like about Gladwell is he knows how to tell a story in a memorable way. This skill is best revealed in his more recent book, Outliers (2008), which is essentially  a series of linked stories showing the factors contributing to high levels of success in a variety of fields.

So, back to my comment about 10,000 hours…. In his book, Gladwell argues that “the biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work.” I hear the same misconception from writers all the time — they tell me they don’t have the talent to write. Pshaw, I say.

Instead, I buy Gladwell’s argument: that if you want to improve your writing, you need to put the time into it.  He claims it takes 10,000 hours to make you an expert. I’m not sure whether his actual number is correct, and I also believe that “any old” writing won’t necessarily count (in my view, those who want to improve need to work to achieve specific goals) but I certainly agree with the principle. Talent, or lack thereof, is not a deal-breaker.

If you’re not certain, I suggest you read Outliers to find out why.

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