Lowest-common-denominator thinker Malcolm Gladwell famously proposed the “10,000 hour rule,” which suggests that in order to become great at something, one must dedicate at least 10,000 hours to its practice. His examples include a young Bill Gates programming computers for 10,000 hours, and The Beatles playing 10,000 hours of shows. Even Ron Silliman has chimed in on the topic:

The second task, the extended reading, takes far longer. There are people—Bruce Andrews was one, Rae Armantrout another—who are writing in their mature style very early on, but in both cases you will find that were voracious readers also. This is where I think that Malcolm Gladwell’s gimmicky ten thousand hours of work to become good at any one thing, whether or not it’s writing, comes into play. You need to understand the range of poetry that you are seeking to become part of…

Poet and blogger John Gallagher has proposed a slight modification of Gladwell’s theory, arguing that once “mastery” has been achieved, it is important for the master to continue engaging with his craft as if he were not yet a master, i.e. in order to avoid resting on one’s laurels, the master (in this case the poet) needs to keep up with current developments in the art, and to continue to stretch his or her own craft:

What composes those 10,000 hours leading to ten years is important. These things become the practiced moves, the long-term memory (that can also become part of one’s automatic memory) that one will draw on for years. But just like anything else, once something gets too solid in memory, especially automatic memory, what feels like the mastery of hitting one’s groove can overnight turn into the realization of being in a rut. The point on the other side of the ten year rule is the rule of continued practice, which is the continued practice of new things.

Not only are we obsessed with success, we are obsessed with formulas for success! The question is: how long does it take to become a master of puppets?

Originally Published: November 9th, 2010