Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Malcolm Gladwell

#MondayMotivation: Figure Out What You’re Best At…

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Folks, it’s time for a Monday Motivation post. (And as I’m still — somewhat, anyway — on Twitter, I decided to use the hashtag in the title. For my sins, I guess.)

When you were young — or at least, younger, as most of us do not enjoy pointing out that we’re not as young as we used to be — your teachers, mentors, and even your parents used to say, “Figure out what you’re best at, and do it.”

But how do you do that, exactly? Especially if you’re a creative type, when creativity isn’t exactly understood?

Maybe this is where Malcolm Gladwell’s book OUTLIERS holds a few of the clues. (I reviewed this book a while back at Shiny Book Review — yes, I do plan on writing a review or two this year, thanks for asking — and I’ve never forgotten it.) Gladwell insists that to become an expert at your field, you need approximately 10,000 hours of hard work to get there. (And even more time than that to stay there, improve upon your expert abilities, and keep going at that high level after that, no doubt.)

The way I view this has to do with persistence, otherwise known as ramming your head into the wall over and over and over again until the wall falls down. It’s not an elegant solution, but it’s the only way I know to get things done.

So, when you get a story idea, or an idea for a poem, no matter how outrageous it seems, you should write it down as best you can. (If I’m pressed for time or tired or ill or all of the above, as I’ve been lately, I try to write it down in prose note format — that is, whatever I get, I write it down, sans dialogue, sans much in the way of description unless it’s absolutely essential, so the idea is not lost.) Even if you can’t do anything with it today, even if you can’t do anything with it next week either, it’ll still be there, waiting for you, when you can look at it again and develop it.

I know this method works, because I’ve had at least four stories that I’ve developed after writing them down in prose note form…and in two cases, I got halfway into the story, then had to put it aside for six months to a year before returning to it.

(What can I say? I’m like a dog with a bone. I have to finish what I start, no matter how long it takes. No excuses.)

So, to figure out what you’re great at, you need to keep working at your talents as much as you possibly can. Whatever they are, figure them out, keep going, refuse to give up on yourself, and give it your best shot. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you differently, either…because the only person who can tell you when it’s time to stop (if it ever is) is you.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 16, 2017 at 6:23 am

A “Changing Faces” Update…or Persistence is Key, Part 2

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Folks, back in 2011 I wrote a blog called “Persistence is Key.” While I’d reword a number of things differently now, I feel much the same way…which is why I’m writing another blog about why persistence is key. (Calling it “Part 2” hopefully links it in your mind that this is a recurring theme. And themes work well for writers. Right?)

Edited to add: Yes, there’s a CHANGING FACES update here. Bear with me. Now, back to your regular blog, already in progress…

Now, why do I feel that the quality of persistence is so important? Simple. Without a rock-solid belief in yourself and your abilities, and the willingness to continue to work hard at whatever they are, nothing of any substance is likely to get done.

Consider, please, that writers often take up to a year to finish writing a book. (OK, OK. Some write faster than this. Some, like my friend Chris Nuttall, write so enormously fast, they put out at least six books a year. But I digress.) We first think about it, which to some involves outlining and/or writing prose notes explaining just what you intend to do. (This would predate a formal synopsis, mind. It’s your formative thoughts about what you think you’re about to do. Clear as mud, no?) Then, after thinking about it for a while, we sit down to write…and after a time, the first draft is done.

Now, do we writers rest on our laurels after the first draft? No, we don’t. We can’t, because the first draft of a story may not be anything close to the final version.

I’m running into that right now with my transgender fantasy romance novel, CHANGING FACES. (See, I told you I’d get to it.) I’ve had one of the characters, Allen, down cold for years. But the other one, Elaine, is continually surprising me with her insight, her biting wit, and the enormity of her challenges. (That she’s a gender-fluid person who prefers the pronoun “she” all the time is only one of those challenges.) And then there are the nonhuman characters to worry about, too (as I did tell you it’s a fantasy romance, right?) — they’re like angels, except they’re a completely different conception than any angel I’ve ever read about before.

Now, I’ve been working on CHANGING FACES, off and on, for at least the last fifteen years. It’s gone through multiple revisions. The way I “see” my characters has evolved over time. And the way I describe them, and show their story as best I can, has also evolved as I’ve gained skill as a writer.

That is what persistence is all about. (Well, that and sheer cussedness. But that’s another blog subject entirely.)

So, while I continue to fight it out to finish this final version of CHANGING FACES for publication later this year via Twilight Times Books, I want you all to remember something Malcolm Gladwell said in his book OUTLIERS. (I reviewed it at Shiny Book Review years ago; here’s a link.)

It takes people an average of 10,000 hours to become skilled in his/her field. That means you have to keep working at your craft, or you’re just not going to be very good at it by definition. Very few, if any, of us come fully formed out of our mother’s womb and know exactly what we’re going to be…and even when we do know where our skills are strongest, it still takes at least 10,000 hours to be able to use them well.

It’s not easy to amass this many hours doing something in this day and age. Those of us who don’t have much in the way of money have to be extremely stubborn in order to persist, work on our craft, persist some more, work on our craft some more, etc., until we achieve some measure of success.

And that success may not always be worldly success. Gladwell talks about genius Chris Langan, who has not managed thus far in his life to break through to worldwide fame and fortune despite his scientific gifts. Then again, Langan doesn’t seem to care about that overmuch; he just wants to use his gifts productively. (He has come up with something called a Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe, so all his thinking has come up with something different and original. Good for him!)

Are we supposed to give up if we don’t make a financial success of ourselves immediately after doing all this work? I say, “Hell, no!” to that.

Why?

We can’t control the market, you see. We can’t control how we’re received in that market, either. But we can control whether or not we’re still in there fighting, to give ourselves the chance to break through — and in the process, let our voices be heard. (And our books be read, too!)

That is why I say that persistence is key. Because gifts and talents are not enough without sheer, hard work to back them up.

So work on your craft. Keep trying. Refuse to give up. And learn as much as you can along the way.

That’s the way to become a true success in any field of endeavor.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 8, 2016 at 5:57 am