WRITING: Ten Thousand Hours

Malcolm Gladwell popularised the idea that, in order to succeed in a field is to spend 10,000 hours practising a given skill. That is my guiding principle: talent will only take you so far, and hard work is the thing that makes you different from everyone else. It’s how you refine your voice, develop your craft, and uncover the very strengths that will set you apart. In order to find your voice, you have to chisel away everything that isn’t your voice: tics grabbed from your favourite writers, short cuts, generic writing. And when you’re done, you find that you can see what makes you special… and so can others.

The past two days, I’ve been compiling a list of all the projects I’ve worked on and continue to work on since I started scriptwriting in 2005:

  • I’ve written seven pilots: five hour-long dramatic and two half-hour comedies. I’ve also in the middle of a draft on two others, and in various stages of pre-pilot development, I’ve got another eighteen ideas moving towards script stage at various stages of concept to pilot outline.
  • I’ve written twenty-one dramatic webisode scripts for two script-only webisode series at TEN. In addition, I’ve played around with projects I didn’t proceed with, including four webisode pilots I set aside after the pilot stage. I’ve also contributed eight webisodes to others’ projects, with more coming.
  • In addition, I’ve written a sixteen-episode dramatic webseries as my Practicum showcase script that I’d like to potentially seek production on.
  • For MZP, I’ve written fourteen hour-long episodes for others’ script webseries, as well as co-writing sixteen, since joining the site in 2005.
  • I’ve written two half-hour comedic spec scripts, for Community and Archer. For my internship I am writing a half-hour kid’s sci-fi spec.
  • I’m currently writing my first feature screenplay, with an outline for another in the works.
  • I’ve read and given notes on countless scripts, including working as showrunner on two TEN projects and my own The Writersroom project.

I’ve been bulking up my skills not just in screenwriting, but outlining, development, and giving notes. Plus ancillary skills in social media, blogging, leadership, and bragging*. And only a few of the above were done for school. A bunch of the pilots were done on my own, out of my desire to tell stories. Ultimately, everything I do comes back to that.

* I guess this helps in self-promotion…? So it counts as a skill!

Seriously, though. I’m not saying that all the above is necessary, but it is a demonstration that there is plenty you can do to hone your skills on your own. I’m not ready to say I’m great, but I’m a lot better than I was when I started all this, seven years ago. And that’s what we want, as writers: to get better. To move closer to that pure distillation of our voice and skills that is the perfect script. Which, of course, wouldn’t be the same for everyone. Probably not even similar.

I’ve written a lot of bad scripts. My first few were dire. And even now, I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I’m looking forward to the next ten, twenty, thirty years of getting better at this.

So, next time you’re bored and have nothing to do. Toss around ideas for a pilot. Think of ideas for interesting characters and fascinating voices. Take a look at your favourite shows/movies/graphic novels and try to figure out why they’re so great. One minute you’re pondering an act break, and before you know it you’re writing END OF SHOW.

And then you start all over again.

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