The poor blog has been ignored for a couple of weeks now, mainly because we're both writing an enormous amount in other areas of our lives.
Nora is teaching a course of 14 students, and she has always written more than all of her students put together. There are a lot of ways in which her teaching could be more efficient, but efficiency is not the primary goal of every human endeavor, and her courses are always powerful and personalized learning experiences. Burger King is efficient, but it isn't a satisfying dinner.
I've taught the same class in the past that she's teaching now, and I know that teaching online takes more energy than teaching in a classroom. She's completely innundated with text, since that's how every interaction occurs. So the students are writing drafts, and making blog posts, and writing e-mails, and Nora gets to respond (also in text) to every single one of those. You've probably heard about the idea of the MOOC (massively open online course), yet another way in which "content providers" are being marginalized so that one teacher can have 40,000 students at once and get paid $5,000 for it. Trust me, those students are not getting teacher responses to their work; these students are.
I, on the other hand, have been writing gleefully and selfishly away at a manuscript that I think will be a book soon. (I need to start changing the focus from writing toward marketing shortly.) You may have heard of National Novel Writing Month, a project in which people spend the month of November taking a story from start to finish. The idea is that a sort of standard novel is about 80,000 words, so if you just sit down and write 2,500 words a day, you can go from blank page to completed draft in a month. I haven't been quite that productive, but August has been a 45,000-word month, and they're good ones. I should have a draft completed in September. And no, I'm not going to tell you what it's about yet. Nonfiction, though, that's my genre.
But I also had a thought the other day not related to this particular manuscript. I've written before about Efren Reyes, probably the best pool player who's ever lived. He started his career as a rack boy and general gofer in his uncle's pool room when he was 5 years old; he's now 59, so has been playing for over fifty years. The writer Malcolm Gladwell has popularlized the notion of the "10,000 hour" rule, or the idea that no matter how much native talent one has, it takes ten thousand hours of focused practice to perform at an elite professional level. By order of magnitude, I estimate that Efren has probably put in over a hundred thousand hours at this point in his life. He makes shots that other professional players never even recognize are available.
But the thought that I had, a cheery thought, is that because he's played more hours at a higher level than anyone, it's very likely that Efren Reyes has missed more shots than any other human being who's ever played. I miss a lot of shots, but I've only got about 3,500 hours in; probably about where Efren was when he was nine. He'd probably missed as many balls as I have by the time he was out of grade school, and then went on to play for another 45 years.
Nolan Ryan holds the Major League record for strikeouts, with 5,714, and the major league record for no-hitters, with seven. But he also holds the Major League record for walks allowed, with 2,795; the second-place pitcher, Steve Carlton, gave up only two-thirds that many, 1,833. He has thrown the most wild pitches, with 277; and has lost more games—292—than any pitcher since the composition of the ball was changed in 1920. You put in that much time (because you're talented and dedicated) and you'll make a vast number of errors.
Nora and I have probably both made our 10,000 writing hours, and a lot of the early ones were bad. We've written as many clumsy sentences as any of our students ever did; we just kept going and wrote better ones. And eventually, a month like August comes along and we just sit down and know what to do.