In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000 hour rule, which states that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill. This notion is both encouraging and discouraging. It’s encouraging because it means if I practice, I can become good. It has inspired me to dedicate time to my craft and consciously cultivate the skills I lack. It’s discouraging when I consider how long 10,000 take to rack up when I squeeze writing time into 15-30 minute increments. This is going to take a while.
Then I heard a TED Talk by Josh Kaufman, and he introduced me to the 20-hour rule. In it, he argues that, while it might take 10,000 hours to master a skill, 20 hours of deliberate practice can make you decent at most things.
Seriously? Just 20 hours? Yes, but the catch here is deliberate practice. This isn’t just time spent polishing the things you’re already good at. Deliberate practice requires a systematic approach and concentrated focus designed to continually push yourself to operate at the limits of your skill, thereby expanding those limits. In other words, it’s hard work.
Now, I don’t think I will be winning any Pulitzers with just 20 hours of practice, but it’s encouraging to think that maybe I can reach publication before I hit 10,000. Continuing to practice after achieving that initial goal means I’ll get closer to the expert skill level. Which means my second book can be even better than my first. And who doesn’t want that?