To Succeed or Not—It’s More Complicated Than I Thought

search-for-success-intro-220x140[1]In an earlier blog, I wrote about the question of success for writers…what it means, how we define it, and I pretty much decided that it’s up to each of us to define our own measures of success. This often involves meeting goals, some that might have little to do with large royalty checks and tons of book sales.

Of course, the reality is that the world beyond our front door will judge us by our income, book sales, awards and prestigious reviews. Whether that matters is up to you, but apart from my own definitions and goals, I find the overall topic of success fascinating. So I was pretty excited to come across a book called Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.

In this book, Gladwell makes it clear that the success achieved by Bill Gates and the Beatles, for example, is not just a matter of talent or IQ, but of cultural background, family and community support, opportunities seized upon (right time, right place) and decisions made. There’s also the matter of the extreme amount of practice put into mastering their skills.

Gladwell cites the famous study which suggested that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieved the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything. This goes for lawyers, rock stars, and writers, I expect.

It makes me wonder how many hours authors put into writing before publishing that first book (traditionally or through self-publishing), and if that practice is a sufficient foundation to reach multiple book publications and huge sales (whatever huge means). I’m just not sure that the 10,000 hour rule is all that straightforward.

For instance, if authors manage to put in 10,000 hours of writing practice before publishing that first book and landing a contract, is it enough experience to help them write the next two books that publishers often expect in quick succession? Will the authors have the mastery to produce the same quality of work that landed them a contract in the first place?

While Gladwell provides some intriguing anecdotes and stories, not all of the answers are there. He discusses the concept of failure as well, through the story of one of the most intelligent men in the world, yet very few people know who he is. It’s an insightful story.

I do think that Gladwell is spot on when he reveals that the super stars portrayed in his book are well aware that they didn’t get there alone. Again, this is also true for writers. If you’re interested in the topic of how success is created in some people and not in others, then I would definitely recommend this book.

Author: debrapurdykong

I'm a British Columbia author who's been writing for over 30 years. My volunteer experiences, criminology diploma, and security work inspired me to write the Casey Holland transit security novels set in Metro Vancouver. I'm also a part-time facilitator in Creative Writing Workshops through Port Moody's Recreation program. Feel free to contact me at

14 thoughts on “To Succeed or Not—It’s More Complicated Than I Thought”

    1. I’ve been keeping track of the hours I’ve put in for years, but I’ve never really added up the total. I’m pretty sure I’ve past it, though I still don’t think I’ve “mastered” the whole writing thing. It’s just so complex for writers.

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  1. Excellent points. It’s like the joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” answer, “Practice, practice, practice.” I am currently reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, and in it, she basically talks about the same things. I think desire and passion plays a big part in success as well. As for writers, we never stop learning and practicing.

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  2. Success means being either rich enough to never have to say you’re sorry, or being honorable enough in your life and creative pursuits that there is no need… Focusing on doing your best may be the only reward we get, but happiness at what we have personally achieved (knowing we did it despite our own personal obstacles) is ultimately our success to claim and savor. (P.S., it lasts longer than money…)

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  3. Interesting thoughts raised by Gladwell’s book and I may well look closer at this one and some of his others. How true that one’s success is always built on the shoulders of so many others … one’s ‘support team’ without whom none of it would have been possible. As for 10,000 hours … this seems an arbitrary number, surely? Of course, intense and long ‘apprenticeship’ of a craft is required, whatever that may be. Thought-provoking post, Debra.

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Annika. Yes, I haven’t read the study to see how they determined that 10,000 hours was the number one needed to become masterful at something. But Gladwell’s book is definitely thought-provoking.

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    1. Thank you! I’ve been writing for over 30 years, but I’m not sure I want to add up all the hours I’ve spent. Nor am I convinced it makes me an expert. With writing, you’re always learning and improving…

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