Talk Write — The Axiom, Part 3

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The Axiom — Part 3

Several years ago, I read an interview given by a famous novelist (can’t remember which one, not Stephen King, however) in which the novelist said that it takes ten years to master any skill, including writing.  The wisdom behind such a statement, I would think, is to challenge us—aspiring writers—to view our careers in realistic terms.  That is, to view them, not as sports-type professions where you play a few years and then you’re done or where you emerge from nowhere as a fresh sensation and take the world by storm.  But to, instead, view the writing profession as something you grow into, giving it your sustained effort, creativity, and patience.  I believe that that was the point the novelist was trying to make:  Success as a writer requires dedication and a commitment for the long haul.  That’s how I read it, anyway.

So what happens to our view of ourselves as writers when we accept this “ten year axiom” as true?  Well, I can answer that question best, I think, by sharing what it did to my perspective when I first heard it.  But let me explain where I was in development, first.

As mentioned before, I had been writing seriously for several years prior to the axiom.  By “serious” I mean I was actively engaged in writing a literary novel.  I had written several hundred pages of manuscript, had a dozen or more unfinished manuscripts collecting dust in my laptop, and had written a dozen or more full notebooks of notes, trying to clarify the writing process and story organization for myself.

I mean, I was serious about this job.  Plus, at that time, I had the luxury of being able to work full time just writing.  But I also constantly felt like I was under the clock, like time was passing, day after day, and I was getting no closer to my goal.  Sure I could write pages and scenes and chapters and some of it was excellent material.  I would rip off thirty-thousand words worth of manuscript and then block because I had no idea what my story was about or where it was going.  Back to the drawing board once more!  Write more notes.  Start over again.  New story.  But starting a new story never solved any of my problems.

Then I was hit with this it-takes-ten-years idea.  Could it be true I wondered?  Well, with all of the other types of work I had done, I had always felt like I was climbing a steep learning curve the entire time I did them.  But only a couple of job types had I worked for ten years or more and, yes, those activities did get easier towards the end—considerably easier.  And I had already invested, maybe, eight years into writing fiction by then so, I figured, I probably didn’t have too much farther to go.

That became an important psychological turning point for me.  First, the ticking clock stopped ticking; the pressure to complete a manuscript this summer, this winter, this summer for sure, vanished.  I felt free to work on the mechanics of writing, instead of producing ten more manuscript pages to finish my book.  The other mental change was that I shifted from production orientation to problem solving orientation and that caused me to focus more on creativity and creativity is fun!  I went from working on my novel to having fun writing my novel!  Big difference.

From that point on, it still took years for me to finish my first novel.  But I’ve had a great time doing it and along the way I have learned how I build story and how I deal with blocks and what sort of stories I want to write.  I’m also confident I will have no trouble completing my next novel in a year or so.  Not to mention, all of those unfinished manuscripts are still sitting on my hard drive just begging for the chance to be next.  All in all, for me, accepting the “It-takes-ten-years” axiom was so worth it.

Hope you enjoyed this post.  Please join the conversation and add your comment below.  I look forward to hearing from you.



2 replies on “Talk Write — The Axiom, Part 3”

  1. It took me 10 years to write my first novel. Thus I can understand the process. However, each writer to his or her own. I hope to complete the next one sooner. 🙂 Good luck to you on all your ventures !

    1. Thank you for the well wishes. I agree that we all have to find our own path, our own process, of completing work. And every day I write, I’m still learning.

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