When Wrong Makes Write

A few  years ago, several non-fiction books hit the shelves claiming that inborn talent was either a complete myth or a small factor in a person’s overall success.  These books were based on the findings of social scientists who had studied experts in a variety of fields.  One of their main findings was that a person needed around 10,000 hours of practice (that’s about four hours a day for ten years) to become excellent at something.  More importantly, not any old practice would do.  This deliberate practice had to have specific characteristics.  It had to be regular.  It had to be hard and demanding.  Most importantly, it had to have immediate, expert feedback.

If you want to be successful at difficult things such as chess, gymnastics or violin playing, a well developed community for getting this sort of practice exists.  If you want to be successful as a writer in today’s society, it’s not so clear cut.  The bar is particularly high in a flooded market.

After I finished my first novel and the rejection letters came dribbling in, I came reluctantly to the conclusion it was not quite publishable.  But how other writers, especially first-time authors, had learned to produce properly publishable work was a mystery to me.

I now believe the secret may have something to do with writers’ groups.

One of these 10,000 hour books, Talent is Overrated, contains comedian Chris Rock’s method for preparing his big shows.  He tries out new material in local clubs, seeing what works, discarding what bombs.  At the end of this process, every single joke left in his act is supremely excellent, all delivered effortlessly. Who would have thought becoming excellent had anything to do with being crap?  It does.  But here is the secret: you have to be crap in front of other people, and they have to be the right people.

I’ve learned a great deal since joining DFWWW many months ago.  The first surprising thing I learned was that my novel was really bad.  Not just a little bit bad; it was a big, stinky pile of present tense and wooden characters.  The second thing I learned, after I dried my tears, was that it was ok to produce bad writing -- everyone starts out doing that. I might not be a special case, but I was in good company.

Then, over the coming weeks, I learned about all the varied and increasingly subtle ways my novel could be bad.  Then some of it got good.  Some of it is still pretty awful, but that’s ok because now I know which bits to discard. Every week, I leave the group with a stronger (if somewhat shorter) story.  I’m still on my journey towards becoming a published writer, but I do believe, at last, I am shoveling my way down the right road.

- Kim Moravec, DFWWW Member since 2012

Join Donate Events