Thinking of just how messy beginnings can be got me to thinking about my writing. Ten years ago when my wife and I were first married and she got to understand just how dedicated I was to writing, she was impressed with how much I’d done but she didn’t give much credence to the idea of 10,000 hours of mastery. (This she told me later.) To her mind it was just that I’d done more of it, and not necessarily that I’d gotten better than when I started by several orders of magnitude.
Possibly there was some bias for her there, as she was an aspiring writer who did not often write.
And then she watched me write.
She watched the speed at which I can type (no great feat, but still, damn fast).
She watched the dedication I can show when inspired (sixteen hour writing binges are not actually good for my health and I don’t do that anymore).
And she witnessed what one of my first drafts was like.
Now, I’ve said before, and it’s absolutely true, that for a first draft to be an unmitigated success it only has to exist. Absolutely, positively true. True for a beginner. True for a master.
And by the time I was married to my spouse, I’d already mastered fiction writing, twice over. I hadn’t just put in 10,000 hours, I’d put in 20,000. Which means that my rough drafts were better – in terms of grammar, flow, pacing, drama, balance, and sheer gripping story telling – than her fifth or sixth draft, and despite the odd awkward phrase or mistype, better than some published fiction she’d read.
And now I’m probably at about 30,000 hours in, mastery thrice over, over the course of 30 years of writing. Which gets me to thinking, you know, about how I was when I first started actually writing the stories in my head, at 15.
Oh, friends, it’s cringe-worthy. My fiction was bad and my poetry was worse. And you know, I still love it. Don’t get me wrong: it’s bad, it’s not even slightly good – and I love every word, every line, like a misshapen craft project from a beloved child.
And looking back not quite so far, but far enough to just before mastery is much easier, as I had written then a set of characters that I picked up in 2020, nearly twenty years later. And the work I’d done the first time around helped to inform what I wrote later, but my later work had a depth of profundity that the early work just couldn’t touch. And in 2021 I wrote a short story that actually weaved the two periods of time together, and I took great swaths of writing just cut and pasted from the earlier works into the later story, but it was as if in those early works I had written the summary and had not dared to go deeper.
Mastery allows me to dare, where I couldn’t before. To push through, to realize the golden thread when I see it, to more clearly use the voice that I have without needing to mimic the styles of others. And often I am surprised by what I end up writing. Even now sometimes I ask my muse, my fingers paused above the keys, ‘um, so, are we really going there?’
And my muse replies, ‘Of course we are, dear one.’