A Living Document

Last week, I mentioned that I’m not a lifelong fiction writer nor poet, having started in 2010. However, I had kept a non-fiction blog for some years before this.

Although WordPress was around in 2003, the most popular blog host at the time was LiveJournal, known among its users as LJ. My first entry was on 19 December of that year, when I was studying at what is now the University of the West of Scotland, although my profile has – for some reason – always said my account was created on 15 March 2004.

I was reminded of my these days though my pal Katy Jones, who not only joined a year or two before me, but still uses it. She was interviewed for a podcast recently, in which she spoke about the appeal of LJ compared to other sites.

However, we’d actually become acquainted through a media forum, entirely separate from LJ, as we were active in different hospital radio stations around the same time. In fact, we’ve never met and I don’t think we’ve spoken by phone or video chat, yet Katy remains one of my most enduring online friendships. We might even be starting pen-pal correspondence soon.

So what of my old LJ account? It still exists, and it served as a good sandbox in which to practice for this WordPress blog, which began in 2013. At that time, the paid-for features of LJ matched the free features of WordPress, so it was an obvious choice to switch for me.

By this time, I’d more or less established my current style, as seen in an alliterative LJ entry from 2013 documenting my transition. My last detailed entry there was a look-back in December 2015. There are earlier entries that still stand up to reasonable scrutiny, like this entry from May 2004.

But there were also duds along the way, like this one that’s disjointed and uninteresting, asking a question about football and then rambling about Firefox and the bit-rates of MP3 files. Years later, we see a desperate attempt to keep the LJ page alive with tedious #MusicMonday entries.

So one thing I’ve learnt over the years is to look at my entries from outside of my own head. If a topic only makes sense to me, then there’s no point in making it public.

Judging by the reactions and the viewing statistics I receive from this WordPress page, I do manage to engage people. I can even look back at entries from six years ago and still be satisfied with them, other than spotting an occasional sentence that needs rephrasing.

I do hope I’ll be able to read this in May 2026 and feel the same way.

Carving Out the Time to Write – and to Read

On Christmas Eve, we explored the theory that 10,000 hours of quality practice can make someone an expert in a given field.

It’s a concept I’m still thinking about five weeks on, so I’ve been conducting a couple of unscientific experiments about increasing the time available for writing – and indeed reading, which is almost as important for an author.

As many mornings as possible, I go for a half-hour walk around the local park. I’m also a frequent radio listener, so I often take my pocket-sized DAB receiver with me. I use it when I walk other places, and occasionally at work when it’s quiet.

For five weeks, I’ve replaced that radio listening with educational podcasts; the subjects covered have not been writing-related, as I’m already familar with that.

Similary, I also have two 15-minute breaks per day. To increase my reading time, I’ve started setting my watch to beep after ten minutes, during which time I concentrate on my book. When time is up, I then finish at the next convenient break, usually the end of the current paragraph or page.

By doing this consistently, I’ve now clocked up an estimated 100 hours of learning in just over a month: that’s already one percent of the 10,000 aformentioned hours.

If I were a beginner writer, I could replace the walks with audiobooks, and replace the reading with writing, and I’d be on my way to becoming better at what I enjoy. There is usually time to be carved out if you look for it.

10,000 Hours of Practice

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the theory that 10,000 hours of quality practice can make someone an expert in a given field. There is an excellent introduction to the theory on ReviseSociology with reference to figures including The Beatles and Bill Gates.

Note that the word ‘expert’ is probably not the most accurate one in all fields. However, let’s stick with the term for the purposes of this entry so as not to overshadow the broader point it makes.

It seems redundant to say that 10,000 hours is a considerable length of time. Think back to what you were doing on Hallowe’en in 2018. The period that has elapsed since then is approximately 10,000 hours.

Realistically, it’s going to take longer than that to clock up the magic number. Assume you work on something for eight hours a day on five days per week, giving a 40-hour work week. Then, for argument’s sake, multiply that by 50 to represent the weeks worked in a year. That gives a round figure of 2,000 hours per annum. Now repeat that five times.

I’ve been writing since 2010, and I don’t rely on it for an income. Instead, I have an office job that offers flexible working hours, allowing me to devote extra time to writing where necessary.

I’ve probably served my 10,000 hours of practice since 2010. It doesn’t mean I know everything – far from it – and neither does it mean I stop learning. But I do feel I’ve had quality practice.

When I was a student in the early 2000s, I had a flatmate who would play the opening bars of In The Shadows by The Rasmus over and over again on his electric guitar. I didn’t live with him for longer than six weeks, but he never improved in that time, probably because he didn’t approact the problem from another angle.

As I say, I’m still learning, and I found out only this year that varying your practice rather than merely repeating an action can help you learn a skill up to twice as quickly. In a writing context, this might mean using a pencil instead of a keyboard, focussing on description rather than dialogue, or changing the time of day when you write.

It’s also important to invite feedback if you wish to improve. Particularly in poetry, I read a lot of work that has potential, but would need to be trimmed or otherwise refined to make it sparkle.

Don’t forget there are many milestones on the way to 10,000 hours, no matter what your field. Just 10 hours is usually long enough to read up on the history and theory of your chosen field, while a language learner probably knows enough after 100 hours to hold a reasonable conversation. And how could you possibly be bad at snooker after 1,000 games?

Above all, probably the most important part of is to enjoy what you’re doing. It’s usually possible to tell whether someone has enjoyed writing: the words seem to pop off the page and carry the reader along. You don’t need 10,000 hours to have a good time.

Poetry in the Community

On Monday of last week, I had the opportunity to teach my colleagues how to write a type of poem called a clerihew. This was part of a larger event called Learning at Work Week where people were teaching their skills to their workmates, such as Zumba, knitting and making mocktails.

A lot of people don’t think they’re very good at writing poetry, so the aim of my workshop was to encourage colleagues to write verses about each other using a simple format. I ended up with a number of good ones, and the clean ones might make it into the internal newsletter.

Colleagues and friends have also occasionally commented that they don’t understand poetry in general, with some asking how to appreciate it.

The best advice I can offer is to read and listen to a wide variety of different poets. There will probably come a point when you begin to differentiate between what you like and don’t like.

After all, most people are certain of their taste in music, and that’s because we’re surrounded by it every day and have built up a template in our heads of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’. If you’re willing to take the time, it’s possible to do the same with poetry.

Serving Your 10,000 Hours

There’s a much-quoted theory that 10,000 hours of quality practice can make you an expert in anything. While the notion of becoming an expert by this method has been debated for nearly 25 years, it is true that quality practice makes you better at what you do.

If you’re a long-term reader – and there must be one or two of you out there – you know I’m upfront about not being a lifelong writer. I started to pen fiction seven years ago at the age of 26; my last creative writing before then was done at high school, at which time I was more interested in music and computing. I’d entered my thirties before I felt comfortable calling myself a poet.

Creative writing class-fine arts center (40269...
Creative writing class-fine arts center (402690951) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the purposes of this entry, let’s convert the 10,000-hour theory to more manageable figures. It’s near-impossible to calculate accurately, but let’s say I practised my writing for two hours every day. If we enter that into the 10,000 Hours Calculator, it gives me a figure of 13.7 years. Eight hours devoted to my field per day brings that down to 3.4 years.

By this measure, I’m not convinced I’ve reached 10,000 hours yet, but does it matter?

As I started relatively late, I used to believe I’d forever be catching up with more established writers. These days, however, I lean toward the view that once you’ve practised for a certain length of time, the gap begins to close. The writer who’s done it for two years will know far more than the one who started 12 months previously. Yet when you’ve written for five years, say, you’ll probably have more in common with someone who’s written for 20 years than two.

The message here, of course, is not to stop practising once you’ve been at it for two decades. On the contrary, the more a relative newbie learns, the narrower the gulf will be between their knowledge and those with more experience. Every day is a schoolday.