Thousands of Hours, One Minute of Results

by Jeff Abbott on August 13, 2008

Last night I was watching the women’s gymnastic team finals in Beijing and after American Bridget Sloan completed her vault, the commentators noted, “She’s done for the night.” They went on to remark about how that was her contribution to the team effort, this one vault: thousands of hours of work for a vault that takes five seconds.
It staggered me to think about that level of commitment, until I realized: writing is not so different, especially with your first book. Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s harder to compete at a global level in a sport than it is to write a book. But I spend hundreds of hours (thousands?–I don’t know, I’ve never counted) on each book, and a reader may only give it a few seconds of perusal in a store. (Or in the case of a first book, an agent or editor may only give it thirty seconds–if they’ve even opted to look at it after reading a query letter or email.) Make a misstep in those first few seconds and you and your book are finished with that reader. Of course, you can’t predict what a reader will consider a misstep. And you can’t worry overmuch about this–you just have to realize and accept that you may spend thousands of hours working on a book, and it will not captivate a reader. Hard truth. I’m sure you all you aspiring writers want to give me a high-five right now for bringing this up.

    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    Jeremy Duns August 14, 2008 at 4:56 am

    High-five, Jeff! :)
    I think as well as the problem of making an impact with agents, publishers or readers perusing a bookshop, the parallel to a gymnast (or a sprinter: all that for around 10 seconds) also works more generally: writers spend thousands of hours crafting their work, and if it’s any good, especially in the thriller genre, it’s read in just a couple of hours.
    I often read the first paragraphs of novels before I buy them. If they don’t grab me there, I won’t grab them.

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