What separates you from professionals writers?

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If only you’d get that big break.  If only you knew the right person.  If only your family was more connected.  If only you had just a little more luck.  If only you had more money, more free time, more guts, then you’d be writing full time, right?

If only… If only…

The truth is, the only thing separating you and professional writers is the amount of time you’ve put into your craft.  

I’m not basing that on my own experiences, but on the experience of those professionals.  In the words of three writers from film, comics, & books:

Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin)

I made the observation that anyone who worked at a job for ten years invariably became an expert at that job. This insight freed me from the fear of picking a so-called ‘impossible’ job. I could pick any field I wanted, free of intimidation, because it was guaranteed I would become an expert… if I was willing to stick to it for ten years. So I picked the job I really wanted deep in my heart: writing for movies.

Since Ted and I were going to be working and studying screenwriting for ten years, that took some of the pressure off. It doesn’t make sense to kick yourself after failing at something for four years, when the path you’re on is designed to take ten. This allowed a period of time to undertake an analysis and exploration of the business, the techniques, the craft, the history, etc. Step by step, from style to format to character to concept to theme, etc. In other words, we gave ourselves room to practice.

Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Lost)

Write more, do other stuff less.

That’s it. Everything else is meaningless. You can take all the classes in the world and read every book on the craft out there, but at the end of the day, writing is sorta like dieting. There are plenty of stupid fads out there and charlatans promising quick fixes, but if you want to lose weight, you have to exercise more and eat less. Period. Every writer has 10,000 pages of shit in them, and the only way your writing is going to be any good at all is to work hard and hit 10,001.

And this isn’t just some tired cliche, I believe that’s a provable mathematical equation. I started writing five pages a day, every single day, when I began my senior year of high school. That means I hit 10,001 roughly a year after I graduated NYU, which was exactly when I pitched Y: THE LAST MAN to Vertigo.

Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers, Blink)

An innate gift and a certain amount of intelligence are important, but what really pays is ordinary experience. Bill Gates is successful largely because he had the good fortune to attend a school that gave him the opportunity to spend an enormous amount of time programming computers-more than 10,000 hours… The Beatles had a musical gift, but what made them the Beatles was a random invitation to play in Hamburg, Germany, where they performed live as much as five hours a night, seven days a week. That early opportunity for practice made them shine. Talented? Absolutely. But they also simply put in more hours than anyone else.

…to invest an extraordinary amount of time in pursuing that particular passion. Again, not just for a little time. The magic number for them, for Mozart, and for so many outliers, as I call them, appears to be 10,000 hours.

10 years.  

10,000 pages.  

10,000 hours.  

How close are you to these milestones?  How much time have you spent deliberately practicing your craft today?  Be pro-active.  Get feedback.  What area’s are you weak in?  How can you work to actively build those skills?  Give yourself time.  Be patient.  Enjoy this period in your life.

It’s easy to write one script and then sit around complaining that no one wants it.  You can blame luck, you can blame nepotism, you can blame your financial situation, but there’s only one thing standing in the way of your success.

If you want to be a professional writer, you’ve got to put the time in.  There are no short cuts.

[This is a slight tweak on a previous post dated July 5, 2012 but damn if it doesn’t get me pumped every time I read it.]

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4 comments
  1. “Write more, do other stuff less.”

    That’s huge, and something I’ve been unwilling to do until recently. But it’s the truth! Something that has stuck with me for years and years is a quote from from Star Trek: Generations. Scotty tells Kirk, “If something’s important, you make the time”.

    • Haha love the Star Trek reference. Totally agree. Great response to “how do you find the time to write?”

      Now if only I could find the time to write.

  2. I totally agree. You can be a professional — even an expert — even if you aren’t published.

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