I love writers. And I especially enjoy helping young writers who email with the big question: When? When will I sell my first script? When will I “get on the boards”? My patient reply is always the same: Don’t worry about that right now. Have fun! The most important thing to do is to love what you’re doing. That way, getting better at it isn’t a struggle, it’s a pleasure.
One of the surest measures of “when?” has come to us in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers, a fascinating study of success and what it takes to be one. As we might suspect, many factors for success include “luck,” and Gladwell has given us surprising anecdotes to support his theories.
Did you know, for instance, that the month you were born may be the key to your being a success in Canadian Hockey? Statistically, more star hockey players are born in the early part of the year. It leads to getting up on your skates and playing faster, and dominating others who are born later in the year. And once you dominate Year One of your young career, it pretty much stays that way.
But the one part of Gladwell’s book I really appreciated concerned how luck meets opportunity — and the importance of hard work. It’s the “10,000 hour rule” Gladwell discovered. That’s about how much time anyone must log at a particular skill before he or she starts to get good at it.
Gladwell cites the success of The Beatles as not just being “in the right place at the right time” when they were discovered in Liverpool, but the many nights they played music, sometimes day and night, while on tour in Germany. What made them great wasn’t just their unique musical style, but the mastery of many styles, over many days and months, by the time the call of fame finally came.
Gladwell has the same to say for Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and other pioneers of the software/Internet/computer era. It wasn’t just that each of these guys was born roughly the same year — or close enough — but that by the time the call came, their “hobby” and fascination with it had absorbed many, many hours of their young lives. How many hours?
The good news for us is this kind of mileage can be logged not just in writing, but in helping others with their scripts, too — which is why I so heartily recommend the “small group” model of writers getting together and critiquing each others’ scripts. Fixing not just your script, but hearing the problems of others, counts too. As does time spent studying movies — and discovering what makes them tick.
It is also the one thing we can control at any age — the time spent to get good at it. Concentrated, focused effort to understand story, character, and execution of ideas — in all forms of communication — makes us the steely pros we need to be when we’re called upon to take the place of the star of the show and are told “You’re on!”
That, and 10,000 hours, really helps!
- Mike Rinaldi
Blake, it’s interesting you mention Outliers and the 10,000 hours. Someone brought this up the other day; I think it was Grant Nieporte, writer of Seven Pounds.
I want to second what Blake is telling us about loving what we’re doing. If we love our script and love our characters, it will be obvious to the reader. And if we love our story, it will be obvious to the execs in the room when we pitch it. Don’t fall in love with your writing, but fall in love with what you’re writing. The love will show and the enthusiasm will help you sell it.
Thanks Blake. I’m going through a tough time right now, full of doubt about my abilities as a screenwriter, and I needed a post like this to keep me focused and optimistic.
- Captain Perry
Having a degree in industrial arts I’d like to add that the 10,000 hour rule is also true in industry and other jobs. For instance an electrician is a journey man in year five or six. Many times young apprentices will form alliances pool their knowledge and back one another to get ahead on jobs. This is exactly what Blake advocates for us. I am open to developing this concept. [email protected]
- Steve Spatucci
I love Blink, haven’t read Outliers yet, but you’re tempting me to pick it up sooner rather than later.
And can you believe they’re going to make a fiction movie, possibly with Pacino, out of Blink – non-fiction book?
- Sarah Beach
After reading Gladwell, I sat down and calculated the hours I’d spent writing — writing anything, since I really committed myself to that past. Interestingly enough, I realized that the piece of writing I still believe to be my very best was written not long after I must have crossed the 10,000 hour mark. Even then, I realized I had hit a high point (and that early in my writing career) that I would have to shoot to best the rest of my life. A bit daunting, but at least it is my mark and not set by someone else.
Writers who love writing should not be discouraged by this goal of 10,000 hours. Practice, practice, practice. If you love writing, the hours can fly by. Writing your stories, writing analyses, writing journals, writing blogs, writing, writing, writing. Just keep going.
- Art Flato
Isn’t life strange. A good friend once said, “Contrary to popular belief, life is not a dress rehearsal.” How lucky we all are to have encountered this angel in a man’s body. He is a modern day Joseph Campbell, a truer than life Billy Wilder, and most importantly to all of us he is Blake Snyder, the God of Goodness. A Cat has nine lives and Blake will live in our hearts forever. Stating “the last book, website and workshop you’ll ever need,” he wasn’t kidding. I learned more from BS in two days than more than ten years of screenwriting. We are and will be forever blessed to have crossed karmic paths with this soul. “Fare thee well” my soul mate mentor muse – “I love you more than words can tell.”
- David Cook
“Have fun! The most important thing to do is to love what you’re doing. That way, getting better at it isn’t a struggle, it’s a pleasure.”
Great final words and a fitting epitaph. God bless you Blake.
Very sad to hear that Blake has left us. He was such a generous man. I wish I could have met him in person.
- rob hendrickson
Oh my god. I just read about Blake’s passing. What a hammer blow. I think I was one of the first people to write back to Blake after reading STC–at least that’s what he told me. We kept up a running e-mail conversation for quite a while and he was a delight–encouraged me a great deal, was open about loglines he thought were great. Made me feel like a million bucks. I’m incredibly saddened to hear he’s gone. What a loss to all of us.
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I loved that book, also worth your time is Talent is Overrated. The 10,000 hour thing is mentioned there too. If Ive been writing stories since I was 8, I think Ive logged in more than 10,000 hours! Success is around the corner. Right?
Back to Save the Cat..xoox