What It Takes to Become a Master Writer

This is a guest post by Mary DeMuth. She is an author, speaker and book mentor with seven published books and several more on the way. Mary also mentors writers on her Wanna Be Published blog. She is also active on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

As a writer who loves the craft, I look for clues everywhere to improve. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers [affiliate link], he elaborates on the importance of sustained hard work as a condition for success and mastery.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/YinYang, Image #2604076

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/YinYang

A study orchestrated by K. Anders Ericsson who looked at musical prodigies found the common denominator for mastery and success: 10,000 hours of practice. “The emerging picture from such studies,” says neurologist Daniel Levitin, “is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world class expert—in anything.”

Think about that for a moment.

If you work hard at something for twenty hours a week, in ten years, you’ll have mastered it. And yet, when I teach and evaluate manuscripts at writers conferences, it seems very few understand this or embrace this.

When I share my publication story, that I spent ten years writing in obscurity, folks inevitably want me to share the “fun part” when I met my agent at a conference and my success seemed to blossom overnight. So many want to know the secret of instant publishing success.

Those who write novels ask me how to deepen characterization, or create a character out of a setting, or evoke mood, or widen suspense. I usually can’t answer that. Why? Because most of what I write now is instinctive, born from years of experimentation and failure. It’s something I cannot teach. It’s something an author must do on their own behind a desk, in quiet places where rewards of publication seem far off.

In evaluating nonfiction and fiction pieces, I see the disparity. Some naïve writers think they can bank on their friend/parents/kids’ over-the-top praise, believing themselves to be an instant prodigy. Or they’ll invoke God’s name, saying He told them to write. And yet some of these “geniuses” won’t receive critique. Some are unwilling to count the cost by practicing BOC (butt on chair).

While it is true that some publishing sensations happen overnight, it is more true that most authors spend years and years toiling over craft, trying techniques and failing, submitting to smaller entities and suffering from perennial “rejectionitis.” That’s the reality.

With all that as the backdrop, here is a checklist I’ve created to determine if you’re the type of person who will invest 10,000 hours to become a master writer:

  1. I am willing to write unpublished words.
  2. I am thankful when a writer farther along the journey offers critique.
  3. I understand that honing my voice is not merely a weekend exercise, but a decade-long fight.
  4. I am developing thick skin with each rejection, while maintaining a tender heart. (I realize that rejection can make me bitter and entitled.)
  5. I see obstacles to my publishing journey as hurdles to jump over, not walls to stop me.
  6. Folks who describe me use the words tenacious, dedicated, and disciplined. I am a lifelong learner of the craft.
  7. I set word count goals or production goals each week. Then I meet them early no matter what.
  8. In the beginning of my journey, I write pieces for free, understanding the importance of apprenticeship.
  9. I am passionate about helping others in their writing journeys even if it means they surpass me. Because when I teach, I learn. And when others succeed, I rejoice because I’m expanding my writing ministry beyond myself.
  10. I understand the beauty of God’s sovereignty in the midst of the journey. He gives and takes away. Blessed be His name, no matter what happens—published or not.

How did you do? Are you a ten? Are you willing to put in 10,000 hours to master your writing?

This journey is not for the casual. It’s a disciplined way of life. This is one reason I’m so thankful my first book didn’t catapult me to success. I believe God kept me slow-going to prepare me for each new project, for each new height.

I’m still not a well-known author, but I do believe that each book I write is better than the last, perhaps because I’m working on my twenty-thousandth hour.

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  • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

    Wow, thanks for this post (yey Guest Posters!). Wayne Thomas Batson and I are driving to our first of four book signings today in the Baltimore area; new novel! But last night we were talking about how long it took us to work through our first books: him – 13 years; me – 10 years. Most of the want-to-be authors I meet (who I always try and encourage), don’t seem to register that fact. Thanks for the enlightening nuggets. Now…in another ten years, I just might be a master writer. ch:

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/flowingfaith flowingfaith

    What a great piece, Mary. Warm, genuine, encouraging. Thank you, Michael for coming up with this idea with guest bloggers. Way to go!

  • http://www.pearlgirls.info Margaret McSweeney

    Mary,

    Writing can sometimes feel like a wilderness experience with no access to mapquest. Thanks for sharing your practical wisdom and personal compass. You are an inspiration. God bless!

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/marydemuth marydemuth

      Thanks Margaret. I could say the same about you.

  • http://LiveIntentionally.org Paul Steinbreuck

    Wow, Mary! Awesome perspective and advice.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/marydemuth marydemuth

      Thanks, Paul.

  • http://fireandhammer.blogspot.com Dennis

    Thank you for this post. At times I feel alone on the journey. It is encouraging to be reminded that while the journey may be long, there are others who go before and many more still walking the path. Your words come at a perfect time in my life.

  • http://sharonalavy.blogspot.com/ Sharon A Lavy

    This post is a keeper. Thanks.

  • http://www.corykent.com Cory

    Tremendous encouragement for this songwriter. (and a well-needed 'kick in the pants' at the same time) Thank you! ck

  • http://evaulian-thebestoftheworst.blogspot.com/ Eva Ulian

    The contents of this blog post come to me as no surprise as I am used to Mary’s good sense, reality checks and encouragement- I’ve been on her blog list for ages!

  • http://twitter.com/AthleticBudget @AthleticBudget

    Honestly, this is one of the best things I have read in a long while. I love the description of the journey. While I find myself at the beginning of my writing journey I am well along the way to the 10,000 hours in becoming an expert in another field. I have been working on the creation of an accounting information system for colleges and univeristy athletic offices. I am just turning the corner of success and my friends rejoice but those who just meet me have no idea that I have put in countless hours for the last five years to become "so successful so quickly!"____Thanks for the article and I look forward to learning more about you.____Jude

  • http://twitter.com/DianeStortz @DianeStortz

    Mary is an excellent choice to be your first guest blogger. From an editor's perspective, coming across a proposal or manuscript from someone who understands Mary's attitude toward craft is always a wonderful thing!!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Daniel_Tardy Daniel Tardy

    Great job Mary. Thanks Mike for allowing guests to post…fun! One thing Dave Ramsey mentions to me frequently is how he's had to work his butt off for 20 years to become an overnight success.

    Personally, I am just now logging around 10,000 hours in professional selling and I feel like there's still so much to learn. Love the BOC line :-). I guess in sales that would be TOP (Time on Phone).

    Thanks for sharing! Nice job on putting out a post worthy of passing Mike's gauntlet for approval. :-)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/hscotthunt hscotthunt

    10,000 hours? Okay, let's see. At the rate I've been going, I will be an expert when I am… 124 years old. Hmm, that 's seems doable.

    Awesome post with a light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks, Mary!

  • http://www.infinitequeso.com Stephanie N.

    I read both Mary's and Michael's blogs regularly. But as a budding writer, this is my favorite post from either in a long time! Thank you so much to both of you for investing your time and wisdom in the next generation!

  • http://sandraking-beholding-god.blogspot.com/ Sandra King

    Beautiful, Mary.

    I've been putting words on paper for as long as I can remember with my first rejection letter in grade school. Then came life.

    Then I started writing again. Some for free. Some for money. Learning the craft but surface words.

    Then came life. Hard, gut-wrenching life. Journals and scribblings thrown away because they were so painful to read.

    And now I'm writing again. I don't know if I've had 10,000 hours of writing practice. But I've had more than 10,000 hours of life experience. Glad for His gifts – even of pain. Glad to practice BOC. Glad that God is sovereign. Glad that all things come together in His timing. Hoping now He'll redeem the time since I turned 60 this year.

    All for Him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TimothyFish Timothy Fish

    So let's see…if I have 20,000 hours invested, does that mean I have a doctorate in writing?

    I'm not real sure how we can figure out how much time we've invested in things that could be considered writing practice, but there are a lot of people with well more than 10,000 hours.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Yes, it means that, Dr. Fish.

      • http://www.justineleemusk.wordpress.com Justine Musk

        That's an interesting question — what constitutes 'writing practice'? If you want to be a novelist and you have ten years writing technology or business articles, you'll still have a lot to learn about how to develop plot, character, etc. And if your practice doesn't include frequent reading and constructive feedback, you might also be making things unduly tough for yourself.

        Awesome post, Mary — I just discovered Michael's blog (and you). I have three novels published (Penguin and S&S) and I chronicled my own journey of ten thousand hours in my post "Failure Is Good For You" at my own site — so I'm amazed at how reading a similar message from someone else is still so encouraging and confirming (I still have a long way to go) — it's a message that can't be repeated enough, or that doesn't seem to get said often enough. Thanks.

        All the best.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    Wow, Mary, that was a GREAT post.

    I've been working with Billy Coffey on his new website where he announced today that he's signed his first book contract – 15 years after starting to write.

    It's never desirable to hear that more hard work is the key but if it's the truth, it's the truth!

    Great guest blog post. Michael. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Yeah, it's a decade+ pursuit. I will say this, though: the journey is entirely rewarding.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

        I'm getting a taste of that today with @billycoffey's news… kind of like eating a piece of cake at a birthday party. It tastes great but you know it's a thousand times better for the birthday-boy (or girl)

  • http://www.richdixon.net/bouncingback/ Rich Dixon

    I've been learning from Mary for several years. What I've learned most is that writing and communicating, for me, must be its own reward.

    "Overnight success" is an oxymoron. Success is usually a by-product of hard work and passion. I suggest a quick look at a video at Chris Borgan's blog: http://www.chrisbrogan.com/what-it-takes-to-be-an

    P.S. As a wheelchair user, I'm very good at the BOC part! I need to hone BOCAK (butt on chair at keyboard) :-)

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks for that link, Rich.

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    I’m laughing about the 124 year old comment. If we all live that long, we’ll be masters at several things, I imagine.

    There’s a really cool story about the journey of writing that involves me, a well known name, a hand-written scribble of encouragement, and an intertwined accomplishment on my blog here: http://relevantblog.blogspot.com/2009/05/story-behind-yesterdays-breakpoint-wow.html

    I don’t smirk when I hear it, but I have to tell myself not to. When someone says, “I just got this message from God and then I typed fifty pages, and now I know He wants me published.”

    Having walked this road now for seventeen years, I try to offer some realistic advice. Sometimes I read what the person has written, usually riddled with errors and run-ons and usage issues. I hear the “God gave me these words,” in the back of my head. What I want to say is: “Well, then I guess the God of the Universe needs to learn spell check and grammar.”

    It’s a journey. A long, long journey. Anyone who tells you any differently is selling something! :-)

  • http://www.nicoleodell.com Nicole O’Dell

    Fantastic post! I think writing is one of those things that proves out the saying: The more you know, the more you know you don’t know. I’m at that stage right now. I’m learning about all that I’ve got to learn. Not sure if I can do it in 10,000 hours, but I’ll give it shot. ;)

    Thanks for the post!

  • Tammie Shaw

    Thanks, Mary, for the reminder. Now, I have work to do.

  • http://donnasbookpub.blogspot.com Donna Volkenannt

    Hi Mary,
    Thanks for your wise and inspiring post. The traits that resonate with me the most are 2, 5, 8, 9, but especially 10. The one I need to work on is #7, which reminds me to get back to work!
    Donna Volkenannt

  • http://www.mydailylight.com Ginny Yttrup

    Great post, Mary. Thank you for speaking truth with grace. It is a long journey–one that requires hard work, faith, and the encouragement of those who've gone before us. I'm encouraged this morning.

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    Ginny, I'm thankful you're encouraged. That's my heart in helping writers.

    Nicole, so true. The longer I get in this journey, the more humbled I feel that publishers want to take a chance on me. It gets harder and harder to write because I know more, and because I've chosen to make a concerted effort to write the best book I can. (Each book should, therefore, be better than the last.)

    Rich, I think you should write a post about BOCAK.

    Margaret, I love the wilderness/mapquest analogy.

    Christopher, congratulations on the release of your book. Such a huge accomplishment.

    Cory, I'm guessing this 10,000 hours idea translates to the music industry well.

    Athletic: Yeah, most people want to hear about the day the agent emailed me. They don't want to hear about the years and years it took me to hone my voice. Genuine success is almost always hard won.

    Donna, making and setting goals will truly revolutionize your writing.

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    Sandra,

    If I didn't have "life" happen to me, I'd have nothing to write! So rejoice in the life that happened…. :-)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fogbound fogbound

    What a great post! Whoever said that everyone has a book in them waiting to come out, didn't take into account the huge majority who would not be willing to make the sacrifice for it. When I wrote my first book I thought it would be a best seller for sure. That was nine years ago and I have just rewritten it for more submissions. My second book was published but only after almost thirty submissions to publishers over several years. Unless you're an already well known celebrity there is no easy path.

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    I remember an agent telling me once, "If you are an excellent writer and can tell a story, the market will make a place for you."

    Sure, it takes a lot of work, and years of labor, but as you perfect the craft, even if you're unknown, eventually your work will be noticed.

  • http://www.oncarriesmind.blogspot.com Carrie Partridge

    Thank you for posting this. It is both challenging and encouraging to press on!

  • http://wordvessel.blogspot.com Cathy

    Awesome post, Mary! Though I've only had the privilege of reading two of your books, your 10,000 hours of practice (and your heart for God) shines through!

  • http://www.InspireWriters.com ElizabethM.Thompson

    Hmmm, I must have at least another 3500 hours to go! Thanks for the encouragement. Your words blessed me as they often do.

  • http://www.bonniegrove.com Bonnie Grove

    "Why? Because most of what I write now is instinctive, born from years of experimentation and failure. It’s something I cannot teach. It’s something an author must do on their own behind a desk, in quiet places where rewards of publication seem far off."

    This states perfectly why I'm backing away from teaching at writer's conferences. What I have isn't transferable – it comes from deep inner places. And secondly, because I have a duty to continue working on my own craft. I'm published, yes, but I have so much to learn about writing novels – there are mountains to climb.

    Not that I am against helping new writers – far from it! But I have re-visioned my role to new writers as friend and encourager – and less of teacher.

    I relish the role of life long learner.

    Love how you share your gifts so freely, Mary. Thanks for this!

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    Thanks Cathy!

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    Keep at it, Elizabeth.

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    I love what you wrote: "lifelong learner." That's how I want to be.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Easy_Writer Easy_Writer

    An excellent post from one of the few master writers I've had the privilege to know during my many years in this industry. May I add a hearty amen to everything you've said, Mary! When I think of all the writing I did for free (yes, in the pre-computer days!), and how excited I was when I landed my first weekly newspaper column (for $2.50 per column!), I smile at the realization of how far God has brought me…and how very far I still have to go.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks so much. My first column was a bonanza of money, then. 25 bucks a pop!

  • http://www.faithimagined.com alisa hope wagner

    Mary!

    Thank you for this post. It is confirming and challenging in so many ways. I appreciate your honest perspective on what it takes to be a successful writer.

    I loved, loved your number 10! Writing would be meaningless without God's hand it in!

    I look forward to reading some of your books!

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    Thanks Alisa! I appreciate it.

  • Rachel

    Mary, I just listened to the audio of Outliers. Found it fascinating. Great post!

    Rachel

  • http://www.thisrestlessheart.com/ Kelly Langner Sauer

    I'm a writer/photographer on the slow track to a dream of writing a book and a wedding photography business, interrupted by babies, going back to the beginning. This post applies to both my dreams. I am learning the value of not giving up, of letting God shape my dream and my journey in His time. Thank you. This truth-telling is encouragement for me, confirmation of His faithfulness through my wait-time.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      That's good news on both fronts. Tenacity, Kelly. Keep at it.

  • http://www.leilanihaywood.com leilani haywood

    So true! I have more unpublished work than published. But if you google my married name and maiden name, you get 10 pages of links to my articles. So many people have come up to me throughout the years telling me they want to be a writer. But it takes hard, unglamorous work!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      And the cool thing is that articles reach so many people. I didn't mention this in the post, but that's where I got my start. Lots and lots of articles. And I wrote a newspaper column for a few years.

  • http://www.womenlivingwell-courtney.blogspot.com Courtney

    Thank you for this post – this just hit the spot for me! I am not trying to get published – I just simply blog 5 days a week and have for over a year now. I'm in my "sophomore" year and I see now that the thrill of newness is gone and it's become "hard work" to maintain this daily discipline.

    I love it and will continue in it – I don't know where it's leading but it's good to know to not expect anything "BIG" anytime soon :-) I'm a newbie! Patience, perseverece and passion – that's where I am at…and your post encouraged me to be content where I am at for now but keep working hard and don't give up…cause it's doubtful that the mommy bloggers that are there right now will still exist in 10 years – many will fall by the wayside because of the committment level and I'll still be there posting away! :-)

    Thanks for giving me a good perspective! And I'm headed over to your blog right now!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Courtney,

      I love how blogging has great impact on people. Don't underestimate your impact on others through the medium of your blog. Plus, you're developing a fan base and readership.

      Blessings on your journey,
      Mary

  • http://amysorrells.wordpress.com Amy Sorrells

    A "10" from a true, genuine, tender and gifted "10." My favorite sentence: "It’s something an author must do on their own behind a desk, in quiet places where rewards of publication seem far off." We writers should all realize what a precious place it is–behind that obscure desk, in front of that blank page or computer screen, with the quietness of God singing over our fingers as we strain to write for Him. Thanks, Mary, for the gift you are to writers and the Kingdom! You rock!

  • http://www.mywritingsoftware.com lara

    Thank you for a wonderful post, Mary! It's funny how for almost any other profession, the idea of putting in your time as an apprentice is absolutely acceptable, but with writing we tend to want to race to the finish line and be published. But if you can't make it be about the writing and words and the characters and the stories, I'm not sure you'll ever find happiness in writing – published or not.

  • Mary

    Mary: Thank you for your words of wisdom stemming from your own journey. It took me three years to write my first book, which is published now. Ive been working on my second book which is a building block from the first one. Im writing every day and hope that others may learn from me as I am learning from you. Ive caught a message that encourages people to pass on what they learned so that others may carry on the work. Blessings, Joyfuljournies.

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    Thanks Amy! You're well on your way with a good voice and a tenacious spirit.

  • http://writingtoserve.net Maria Keckler

    Awesome perspective! Will put a link on my blog as a must read–it perfectly complements the mindset of what a Servant Writer is all about!

    Maria

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Great terminology, Maria: servant writer. Thanks for linking.

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    That's an interesting point, Lara. I do think I enjoy the process and the result so much more because of the long journey. There's something satisfying about being truly proud of a book.

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    Mary, writing every day is a great habit. Keep at it, and congrats on your book.

  • http://www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com Nikole Hahn

    Thank you for this beautiful and very true blog! I am every trying to perfect my craft. When I read, I study what I read. I try to imitate in some places and perfect my own individual style. Every week I set goals and every week I am succeeding for the most part. Every day I try to blog to excercise my skill and keep it honed, practicing what I study in each blog, and trying different and new things.

    I write because I love to write and sometimes my writing touches others lives. I may never get paid for my art, but I’m happy just to see someone is reading my work and benefiting from it.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Wow, Nikole, I'm so impressed that you're taking the craft seriously. Setting goals makes me happy! And as you do that, you'll see improvement. I'm also thankful your writing is touching others. That's part of the pure joy of writing, to communicate something, and have someone be changed by what you've communicated.

  • http://www.barbaraparentini.com Barbara Parentini

    Many thanks, Michael, for having your guest blogger; and many thanks to Mary DeMuth for sharing her wisdom. I'm going to print out the checklist and post on the wall behind the computer. My writing life was launched after a life-changing accident in 2003. I'm now a young 58, and enjoy a passion for writing. I recently faced the time factor. A well-known, prolific author encouraged me last week by mentioning several award-winning books that took the authors 5 to 10 yrs to write. Lord willing, I don't intend to take 10 yrs with my book, but I am willing to pay the price to produce a beautifully crafted, inspiring novel. Thanks again!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Barbara, that's really inspiring. And I'm so glad you're printing off the checklist! Hope it helps.

  • http://marlataviano.com Marla Taviano

    This is awesome, Mary! Thank you! I've always admired and appreciated your humility and the way you help others so generously. Praying HUGE blessings on your ministry!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks for those prayers, Marla.

  • http://www.sheiladeeth.com Sheila Deeth

    Lovely piece Mary. Of course, the mathematician in me is now breaking down those 10,000, at 40 hour weeks, and trying to add it all up.

  • http://www.TheMasterSeminars.com Tiffany Colter

    When I first saw the posting I thought you were talking about The Master Seminars that Chip MacGregor and 4 other writers are doing on craft and marketing, so I ran over to see what you were saying. Then I saw it was on The Outliers and read because I read that book in August. I read "The Tipping Point" and "Good to Great" first then read The Outliers. I learned so much from these books. I found Outliers a bit depressing to be honest. While Good to Great made me really think, Outliers seemed to imply "if you weren't born with this advantage then you'll never get this high".

    Despite that, I still pulled a large amount of useful information from it. This blog posting is an excellent summary of useful information.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks Tiffany. I like to think about sovereignty instead of being "stuck" in the wrong situation.

  • Gwen Stewart

    Mary,

    This morning I prayed and prayed for my writing journey. They weren't pretty prayers. They were rather desperate. I know that you did not write this post just for moi ;). Still, I consider your wise words an answer to prayer–and not just mine, but the prayers of many.

    When I read your writing, I think the words must fall from the sky right into your lap. But like in music, the best artists make it seem easy, yes? Thank you for being honest about how long it takes to find and hone the voice, and to learn and apply craft. Thank you for loving the art enough to encourage with truth and not platitudes.

    May God bless you richly today, as you have blessed others.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Perhaps I did, Gwen!

      Alas, the words don't fall from the sky. I wrench them from myself in a terrible wrestling match. The cool thing: I've learned to wrestle better over the years.

  • http://amothersangst.blogspot.com Fran

    Thanks for this perspective. I pray that God works through all of us and that we humbly give Him the reigns. If I count blogging, I'm a few hundred hours into the 10,000 hour journey. May we run with perseverance the race marked out for us, avoiding all that hinders and entangles!

  • http://www.davidbmclaughlin.com davidbmclaughlin

    Great article Mary. Thanks Michael.

    dm

  • Aimee

    I love that you recognize God's sovereignty in this. Let's be honest – NOONE's getting published unless He wills it so, least of all those of us who wish to exalt him.

    Finding contentment and trust in our lives with Him regardless of our lives behind the keyboards is…well….key.

    Thanks for the honest, challenging words.

    Now how can I make sure I'm the exception rather than the rule!? (Kidding…)

  • http://sarahstirman.blogspot.com/ Sarah S.

    I actually find this encouraging –that I'm on the right track, just haven't yet logged enough hours to be that "overnight success". I've been prone to look at all the others and think "what is WRONG with me that I haven't made it??" Now I know — it's a matter of hours. Lots of hours.

    This post makes me realize one of the many reasons I have come to appreciate Mary. Mary, you are one of MANY writers that I read that offers help and tips to other writers on a regular basis, but you are the only one that continually encourages and prods for free, without holding back the best advice (like this) and such for "paying customers". You do have quality resource products to offer, some of which I have utilized, but you continue to use your blog and skills to bless and encourage the rest of us. Thank you so much, and may I be a writer like you some day!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Sarah, you totally blessed me. Thanks so much. I do love to help writers, and sometimes I grow weary. So your words boosted me!

  • http://www.caraputman.com Cara Putman

    Mary, So much wisdom! People could look at me and see an overnight success without realizing that I wrote my first novels as a teen — and then "lost" them. Or the reading craft books when I could before I picked up the keyboard. There's so much background of hard work and obscurity. Love your checklist!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks Cara. That's good to know. You've been at this a loooong time!

  • http://stephaniebeck.yolasite.com stephbeck

    great article. as an apiring I'm hitting most of them which is reassuring, but it also had some great reminders and new places to look for impovement. Thank you!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Set those CONCRETE goals. Then meet them.

  • http://www.kristiejackson.blogspot.com Kristie Jackson

    Great post. Sobering, since I'm thinking I'm on about hour number 5,000, but full of wisdom, as usual.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      That's halfway there. Do one more hour and you'll be closer!

  • http://www.deborahgyapong.com Deborah Gyapong

    Great post, Mary. So true.

  • The Hermit Editor

    "I hear the 'God gave me these words,' in the back of my head. What I want to say is: 'Well, then I guess the God of the Universe needs to learn spell check and grammar.'" Exactly. And don't forget, "God needs to reread the Bible, because He mixed up several Bible stories and added and subtracted details." Do you have any insight into those who make these claims?

    Beautiful article; thanks!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      No insight there, but I get your point. I'm thankful you liked the article.

  • http://www.argyleandapricots.com/site/ Dan

    Thanks Mary for the great insight.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

    In the early to mid 1990's, I wrote two full-length novels. Since I was just beginning my writing journey, they weren't very good–I tried re-writing one, but I became bored with it because I lost my passion for the stories. Over the years, I have left fiction behind and picked up on non-fiction. Were those manuscripts a waste of my time? Absolutely not! The very act of putting the stories on paper increased my understanding of and my ability in the craft of writing. That's the neat part of writing–no words are ever wasted because they all contribute to the process of becoming a good writer.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I agree. Nothing is wasted.

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  • http://www.dianacosby.com/ Diana Cosby

    Excellent post. Love your enthusiasm, realism and determination to carve your success. Congratulations on your every achievement and I wish you continued success!
    Sincerely,
    Diana Cosby, AGC(AW), USN Ret.
    http://www.dianacosby.com
    Romance Edged With Danger

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks so much, Diana. This is a fickle business, so sometimes success is elusive. But I am determined to write each book better than the previous one. With that definition, hopefully I'll be successful.

  • http://www.katelordbrown.com Kate Lord Brown

    Excellent post – thank you both. Loved 'Outliers' and this idea strikes true – I'm just at the ten year mark so hoping all those thousands of hours of BOC are coming to fruition!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      May they come to pass, Kate!

  • http://geminianeyes.com Naoko

    Thank you for your words. It’s really good encouragement, and it comes at a much needed time. :)

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      That's great to know, Naoko. I'm thankful you were encouraged.

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  • http://www.godmessedmeup.blogspot.com Pam Hogeweide

    Loved Outliers and I love this blog post. Great round-up about the writing life. And yes, I'm in for the long haul. I'm five years deep and maybe, only maybe having logged about 2,500 hours or so. Tons of free writing. Lots of rejection. Plenty of professional set-backs, yet the writing goes forward.Always forward.

    Thanks for this Mary. See you on Facebook!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I love your attitude to keep going, keep learning, keep writing.

  • http://nataliespera.com Natalie

    GLORY!!!!

    I needed to read this!!!!

    Do it again, do it again!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks Natalie. I'd love to write another guest post someday.

  • http://twitter.com/timdetellis @timdetellis

    After reading your blog post, the first two words that come to mind are discipline and talent. Then I am reminded that talent is not a measurement of maturity. The last word that comes to mind is time. It just takes time to mature talent. I remember Bobb Biehl saying that if you are not spending at least 60% of your time doing something, then that something will be mediocre.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      That's an interesting quote, Tim. Where did you find it?

  • http://www.lizbabbs.com Liz Babbs

    Great post, Mary. Thanks again for promoting 'Celtic Treasure' on your blog.

    We all have to continue to work hard at improving our skills no matter how many books we have published. Writing for the American market is making me raise my game still further, which is no bad thing for this Brit!

    I've just been on a writing course at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, which is one of our largest and oldest literature festivals in the UK. Our top British authors plus celebrities were there, and I was on a specialist writing stream with 25 others being taught fiction and creative non-fiction by some of the best. Feels like I've done writing gymnastics all week. Wonderful. Listening to Audrey Niffenegger (Time Traveler's Wife) at the festival made me realise how deep she has had to dig for her second book.

    God bless you and your writing, Mary.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Wow, Liz. I wish I were there with you. What an amazing opportunity!

  • http://kouroshkeshavarz.com Kourosh Keshavarz

    What a brilliant article. And might I say it doesnt just relate to writing but anything. I am going to print this and place it on my desk so I can see it everytime I am writing.

    Kourosh Keshavarz

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Kourosh, that's great to hear. It's always nice to know someone likes your article enough to print it. Happy writing!

  • http://www.danblackonleadership.blogspot.com/ Dan Black

    Leaders and writers are born daily not in a day. Malcolm Gladwells books is great and really puts a perspective on people who want to write or have any type of long term success. Its the Rule of Five principle that I have heard John Maxwell talk about.

    This is a great blog and will pass it on.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks for passing it on, Dan.

  • http://apostleron.wordpress.com Ron Ash

    Andy Andrews told me recently to "persist." He said this is what makes great authors read authors. I recall I conversation I had with Bruce Barbour back in 2008 in which he told me to "stay the course." You see, as we move forward and continue using our Gifts we inevitably find Truth in all that we are created to be. It is our passion which is our soul’s recognition of these Gifts. We are only limited by what we think is impossible. Plant the seed, tend the seed and patiently wait for the fruit.

    Also, concentrate on the proposal and not the manuscript. Sell the idea and build the manuscript with publisher input. Bruce let me in another little secret, "Publisher's like manuscripts that are less than half complete."

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Yes, Ron, this is true for nonfiction. You want to make sure your proposal shines and compels a pub board to take notice. Mike has a proposal product folks can purchase, and I also have one. There are great books out there that help shape a proposal.

      But, to clarify, if you write fiction and you're new to the business (meaning you haven't yet published), you have to write the whole novel.

  • http://apostleron.wordpress.com Ron Ash

    Listen, I know a lot of us may believe 10,000 hours of writing are a lot. It is not. If we become religious about it and schedule a few hours per week of serious writing time it will accumulate rather rapidly. The key is to start from the heart and take care of all the technical stuff later.

    Every one of us has something inside of us that needs to be said. Writing is the process of extracting those words, fine tuning them and letting them run the quarter mile. When the checkered flag comes down it won't be how many seconds we ran. Victory will have everything to do with the number of hours we spent preparing for the race. The prize will consist of how many hearts we were able to touch, minds we were able to change and soul's we were able to teach.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Such a good race analogy, Ron. And thanks for the links.

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  • http://www.chuckbalsamo.com Chuck Balsamo

    Hey Michael… I blogged about this post!

    Prodigies! That we may be remembered NOT as mere people–but as PORTENTOUS EVENTS in world history!

    Hope you like it! Have a most outrageous weekend everyone!!

    Chuck

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/marydemuth marydemuth

      That's great that you have a blogging response, Chuck.

  • Judi Meadows aka Danie Marie

    Mary ~ Thanks for posting such an heartfelt piece. I fully concur with your observations. I’m not sure how many hours I’ve logged, but if butt callouses say anything, then I’m on my way! LOL

    I’ve learned to love rewriting. It helps me hone my craft. Tightening a sentence and making it snap is a joyful experience. The Holy Spirit is the best writing partner! God Bless you as you write for him!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      That's great news, Judi. It's still hard for me to love re-writing, so that's a great indication you're growing as a writer.

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  • http://www.dominickstanley.com Dominick Stanley

    I can say that I agree with the article and received good take a ways from it. One thing for me is the acceptance that I am supposed to write. i have always written growing up however felt their was no way that I could really make a living off it. I have since learned that does not matter as much as just doing.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Great point, Dominick. It's better to write than make excuses for not writing.

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  • http://www.themotherlode.wordpress.com Theresa Lode

    Bravo, Mary. You are so right….there are no shortcuts. I really enjoy following your tweets, btw.
    And thanks to you, Mike for having guest bloggers; it's a fun feature of your blog.
    My recent post The Mother Lode’s Power Bag Workout

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/marydemuth marydemuth

      Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed it, Theresa.

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  • http://www.lifecourseministries.com Michel Lanphere

    Thank you for your input. I have been writing sermons for the last 30 years and just recently published my first book. No comparison. I have never felt so inadequate before. Writing is difficult but on the other hand it was a very enjoyable and rewarding experience. I don't see a best seller with the book I wrote but it was a great learning experience for me. I do believe some will be blessed by the book as well, but as I read it now, I'm thinking of all of the revisions I will make on the next printing. I'm not a 10 at this point but am working in that direction.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/marydemuth marydemuth

      Keep at it, Michael. It does take a lot of practice and lots of editorial eyes to make something exceptional.

  • http://www.bonniegrove.com Bonnie Grove

    Great list, Mary. I’d like to see something on it about embracing the creative. I’ve met many writers who are so concerned about the “rules” they have forgotten to dance to the unique drum they hear. They’ve grown deaf to the siren call of the creative.

    It’s better to be immersed in the creative muse, like Alice in her Wonderland then it is to type 100,000 words that follow all the rules. At least, it is for me.

    Be dedicated. Be wild.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/marydemuth marydemuth

      I like that, Bonnie. You should write a guest post for Mike about just that!

  • http://www.therextras.com BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

    Only half-way there on my decade. Actually, that is comforting.

    Blessed be His Name.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/marydemuth marydemuth

      You can do it! Go Barbara, go!

  • http://storytellerjourney.blogspot.com Storyteller

    Amen! The last point is the best of all. Thanks for posting this!

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/marydemuth marydemuth

      You are quite welcome, Storyteller.

  • http://www.myfaithfulliving.com Kelly

    Wonderful lesson Mary! My favorite is #10, I understand the beauty of God’s sovereignty in the midst of the journey. He gives and takes away. Blessed be His name, no matter what happens—published or not. I'm not looking to "win the race" as long as I work 40 hours plus on a full time job! I am just a "toddler" when it comes to writing, but I enjoy blogging and it occupies my mind the majority of the time. Might not win the race, but love the journey, and always love anything you write!!

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/marydemuth marydemuth

      I'm so glad you love the journey. That will serve you well, Kelly.

  • http://www.angusnelson.com Angus Nelson

    Humbled, yet again, by your brilliance. Thanks Mary!

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/marydemuth marydemuth

      You're welcome, Angus!

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  • http://www.jdsawyer.net J. Daniel Sawyer

    If you’re an atheist or an agnostic (and many of us who read this blog are), substitute for #10 “I understand that the universe is capricious, and that practice and persistence is a calculated gamble that betters your odds in the long game, not a guarantee.”

    Otherwise, bravo!

  • Isidro

    well that’s great, basically all I learned is that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. Well that’s great. I’ll guess I’ll do that, I mean I’m not trying to become a writer I stumbled upon this post on accident. But whatever I’m going to go on and pursue now I know. 10,000 hours, which can easily be turned into 5 or 4 years if dedicated enough. This is what I originally knew as the time for mastering anything, but having an actual number of hours is cool.

    Also its not just me. Once you learn how to do something it can be rather hard to explain to other people. It’s fun to learn that this doesn’t change even if it takes 10 years to do so. Interesting read, really like it. thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/BobEwoldt Robert Ewoldt

    Thanks for the post, Mary. Even though I’m not an author (though I guess you could say I’m a faux-writer, being a blogger), I think that this principle of perseverance can apply to pretty much any area that a person is in.

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  • Rob Sorbo

    Based on the concept that it takes 10000 hours to excel at anything, I’m unsure how to approach my job. I’ve been here for about 2.5 years, and I getting tired because I’m not learning anything new. In fact, I would consider myself an expert at all of the major tasks I take on. However, 2.5 years of 40 hour weeks is only about 5000 hours. I guess I’m challenged on what I can learn the next 2.5 years.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/melindatoad Melinda Todd

    Always great advice, Mary! Thanks for sharing and giving me something to ponder and chew on.

    Blessings,
    Mel
    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  • http://twitter.com/andersencarol Carol Andersen

    Thank you Mary for your honest inspiration.  Several of these items ring true in other areas of my life as well — so persistence, hard work and resilience have a lot to do with longstanding “success” and joy in pursuing our passions.  Gonna print these out & paste on the wall above my writing alcove :) — to keep me on track towards excellence!