Beyond The Pale

Yet Another New Blog.

I’m starting yet another blog.

Why? Why would I put myself through this yet again? Why give myself the guilt of having a blog and not actually posting anything on it, even though there is no reason for guilt because there usually aren’t any readers?

Well, I’m reading yet another book by Malcolm Gladwell. This one is called The Outliers, and  of course I was immediately intrigued when Kaitlyn suggested that I read it because I have been fascinated by the title “outlier” ever since the first time that I read Cold Mountain sometime in 2005.

I believe that I live on the outskirts, the fringe of society in many ways. I don’t know if this has always been true, but I guess I have always perceived myself as an outsider, and if I wasn’t, then I wanted to be. This is why I was drawn to the humanities, an undervalued discipline full of socially awkward people who don’t usually feel like they have a very functional place in the modern university (even if they feel like their part should be more important than most).

Gladwell takes a different approach in his book than I have in my thinking. When he talks about the outlier, he talks about the hyper-successful, the ones like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, professional Hockey players. I’m sure he would have talked about Michael Phelps if the book had been written a little later. The primary question is: where do people like this come from?

I’m only a little ways into the book, but Gladwell is already settling into a holding pattern around one basic idea: they practice a lot. According to Gladwell, the difference between the best and those who are only average is simply the number of hours that they have put in. Revolutionary isn’t it? I was looking for some panacea, some cure to the miasma that I fall into as a writer, and his response is, ” why don’t you just get to work?”

I always objected to Steven King’s comment in his book On Writing where he said that if you don’t have 4 hours a day to dedicate to writing and another 4 hours to dedicate to reading, then you shouldn’t even bother trying to be a writer, and I still do, but in the light of Outliers, even if the quantification isn’t valid, maybe the principle behind it is.

I needed this reminder as a writer because I easily get frustrated with my inability to make a certain story come out the way that I see it in my head, and I quit writing for a while. Gladwell says that an Outlier is created essentially by a magic number, the number 10,000. This is the number of hours of practice that it takes to make the best of the best in whatever, from Ice Hockey to computer programing to…writing. Every time that I get frustrated and don’t write a story for a couple of months, every time that I get distracted from working on a paper and instead spend the evening watching movies or surfing the Internet, every time that I take a couple of days off from writing in my journal, I cost myself precious time that I can’t afford to waste. If I were to write for 2 hours a night, 5 nights a week, it would take me 20 years to reach that magic number. I don’t think that it would be productive to time every bit of writing that I do, but I do think that it bears keeping in mind that writing, just as anything else, is a skill that only develops with time.


February 20, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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