Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

intention and the 10,000-hour rule

Filed in Writing :: June 28, 2010

IStock_000010159223XSmall Today is the 21st and last day of Bindu Wiles‘ original 21.5.800 (5 days of yoga each week and 800 words each day) challenge.

On Day 14, I wrote about the middle, and that post really needs a Part 2 here at the end of the first 21 days, and before the ten-day extension begins tomorrow.  And before we go any further at all.

Here is my question: how do I become an excellent writer?  What does it take?

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses studies that show that more than talent, more than luck, more than anything else, “what it takes” is practice.

Gladwell cites examples of talented, lucky people, from Mozart to the Beatles to Bill Gates, who excelled beyond many other talented, lucky people because of their actions: they practiced.  10,000 hours of practice from novice to excellence.

Usually Gladwell’s examples take about ten years to reach 10,000 hours.  So with the help of my trusty calculator, I can tell you that this means practicing 2.74 hours every day for ten years.  Yep, that’s 365 days a year.

It’s not a question of whether I’m willing to spend the time.  That’s not up to me.  The time for practice seems to be non-negotiable.  The question is whether I want to be excellent.  When I imagine that I can become excellent by writing only when the muse calls, I am delusional. 10,000 hours will not happen if I wait for the muse to wake me up.  She doesn’t show up unless I do first.

That’s where a challenge like Bindu’s, and the habits that it can create, is invaluable.  The framework of 21.5.800 has shown me that I can write every day.  Period.  Well, almost period.  I missed one day of writing out of the 21, the day of the mediation, and while I didn’t try to write 800 make-up words, I made up the words in a couple of days.  Having the habit and the 21.5.800 framework in place meant that I wrote the day before, and the day after, and I didn’t consider that I needed a break because I was tired or busy or any of the other excuses that I’ve used more often than I’m happy to admit.

I was in a challenge: I was committed.  And I had gotten clear about my intention, which brings me to today’s word from Dian Reid’s Self-Evidence + Authenticity Challenge, to which I’m grateful for giving me a focus for blogging these last 21 days.


Lyle Lovett’s “Good Intentions” plays in my mind, and the lyrics are worth a click: “She wasn’t good/But she had good intentions.”

Which brings me back again to the “action” part of the equation.  I have to have good intention and 10,000 hours of good action, and a little luck and talent.

Filed in Writing


  1. wholly jeanne

    bingo on you. such clarity here. me, i’ve been acting like i want to be an excellent delusional, and honestly, i’ve pretty much succeeded at that. now it’s time to shift gears and strike, work to become an excellent writer. and there’s no time like the present, right?

  2. yuki

    This is brilliantly written, and just what I needed to hear! Your commitment to the challenge is incredible, reminding me that intention is where it ALL begins. I have much to learn, but am grateful beyond words to have people like you to be inspired by. Thank you!

  3. Alana

    10 000 hours. I need to get to work. I’ve often wondered if I’m meant to be more of a dabbler and connector than a pro at any one thing. In my heart of hearts though, I do want to be excellent (although if I’m doing the math correctly, I’m almost an excellent mother – hee hee).

  4. Meredith

    2.74 hours a day. I don’t think I have one thing I do for that long everyday. Wait.
    Sleep. I’m really good at that.
    Thank you for the constant inspiration and motivation your writing brings into my life!!!

  5. Square-Peg Karen

    yes! Yes! YES! A thousand times, YES! Love this – right to the heart of the matter!!
    and Angela — I’m not suggesting you take time off, coz I love reading your writing — but just commenting here: Looks like (reads like) you’ve got a most of that 10,000 in already…you’re already an excellent writer
    but there’s always the NEXT 10,000, right? The whole thing kicks up another notch – wowohwowohwow!!