Become a better writer in 2012

One of the themes that resonated with a lot of people from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers was the idea of 10,000 hours: using examples from Bill Gates to The Beatles, Gladwell posits that it takes 10,000 hours of slogging in your chosen field to really hit it big.

Okay, so we can all think of plenty of people who’ve “made it” in less than that. Look how famous Lindsay Lohan is, and I’m not even sure she’s been alive for 10,000 hours.

But the point is, there are no shortcuts. To become a better writer, you have to write.

You also have to read.

While it’s not always true that a good speaker is also a good listener, it does follow that an effective writer is a relentless reader.

Some of the best advice I ever got was to pick up a section of the newspaper I would normally skip over and start reading it. (Newspaper? How dated will this post seem in 10 years?) To me, for instance, the Business section was initially nothing but blah-blah-Dow-Jones and yada-yada-hedge-fund … but it didn’t take long to recognize – and understand – the great stories in the business world. I later published several of my own articles in business publications.

You didn’t enter first grade knowing how to multiply 12 by 12. You didn’t know how to roll a joint when you started high school. But you learned.

Whatever you do for a living now – soldier, lawyer, baker, welder – you weren’t born knowing how to do it. If you paint, knit or sail in your spare time, you’ve spent the time learning that craft.

So go to reading school.

Be voracious. Consume words in as many forms as you can: fiction and non-fiction, newspapers and magazines, mainstream media and alternatives, websites, blogs, whatever.

Expose yourself to a diversity of material: new subject matter, unfamiliar writers, different styles of writing. By osmosis you will pick up new ideas and new perspectives and even new terms to add to your vocabulary.

To put a new spin on an old adage: write what you know, read what you don’t. It’s through the chorus of different voices that you’ll find your own.

2011 has 365 days, 8,760 hours. The clock is ticking. Your 10,000 hours start now.


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