Creativity #2: Ten Thousand Hours

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell is quoted as suggesting: “Researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” It often seems that creative people are blessed with a mystical (and unfair) gift, where symphonies and paintings and towering novels pour forth effortlessly out of their fingertips. And it’s true that creative juice is sometimes a truly divine gift . . . but the rest of us don’t get to see those ten thousand hours of toil and sweat.

Gladwell uses the Beatles as an example. They shot to almost instant stardom in the 1960s, but this followed a gritty and fatiguing estimated 1,200 performances in grungy clubs in Hamburg, marathon rockfests lasting eight hours a night. Stephen King wrote daily and incessantly from the time he was 12, piling up a mountain of rejection notices, until he lucked out thirteen years later with the sale of Carrie.

Speaking of Beatles, the prolific songwriting team of Lennon/McCartney never once had a dry session. When they sat down at the piano with a paper and pencil, a good song invariably emerged. Talk about dumb luck and creative genius! But not so fast . . .

Paul McCartney woke up one morning with yet another fresh tune in his head. So good, so classic, and just handed to him in a dream! He actually feared he was subconsciously plagiarizing it. “Have you guys ever heard this?” he would ask his musical mates. He got the green light from John, George, and Ringo – and then the lyrics simply wouldn’t come. He tinkered with it for months, satirically scribbling down: “Scrambled eggs, oh, my baby, how I love your legs.” After endless fatiguing sessions that were anything but creatively easy, trying this line, then another, wearily going June – moon – spoon – croon, he finally came to: “Yesterday, All my troubles seemed so far away.”

I read once where comedienne Joan Rivers had a TV appearance with Johnny Carson that appeared effortlessly brilliant! The back-and-forth, the verbal repartee, the winks and jokes flowed like free water from the tap and the ratings went through the roof. “How does she do it?” people wondered. “It’s so easy for her.” Then it came out how she and the NBC folks literally spent days thinking of topics, brainstorming, trying out lines, testing jokes on focus groups, rehearsing the timing, the raising of an eyebrow, which syllable to pop in a punch line, everything.

So if you yearn to be creative, especially to the glory of God, I might suggest the following two steps:

One, ask God to enhance your creative gifts. Dedicate your talents to his kingdom and pray for divine blessing.

Two, set aside those ten thousand hours. Because writing a hit song can involve, as they say, a hard day’s night. Or many of them.

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About David B. Smith

I'm a math professor at San Bernardino Valley College - awesome place! - and author of adult Christian fiction. Lisa and I have two grown daughters and four grandkids.
This entry was posted in Anecdotes, Beatles, Creativity and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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