Monday, August 24, 2015

What It Takes

By Lori Stanley Roeleveld

Our workout class gasped for air after completing eight hundred abdominal crunches. Our karate instructor, Kyoshi Chick, leading the exercise, kneeled, unfazed.

“Two hundred pushups,” he announced. We groaned.

One new student protested. “Sure, two hundred pushups is easy for you!”

Kyoshi paused mid-pushup to scowl at the unsuspecting moaner. “Easy? Two hundred pushups is easy for me? Yes, you bet it’s easy but there’s a reason for that. Do you think I woke up one day and discovered I could just bang out two hundred pushups? No. I prioritize. I schedule strength training. I invest hours into cardio. I pumped out four hundred pushups before your alarm went off this morning. It only appears easy to you because you have no concept of what it takes to get here. Complain less and work more; then you may have a shot at doing what I do, too. The only difference between you and me is that I’m willing to do the necessary work.”

I gained a lifetime of education in that one exasperated outburst by an expert in his field. Kyoshi practiced karate and invested in physical conditioning for hours a day, every day. At the time, he’d achieved the rank of Kyoshi, a seventh-degree black belt. He made his art look easy while those of us just starting out made it look like clumsy, sweaty work.

Malcolm Gladwell touches on this concept in his book, Outliers, when he proposes the 10,000-hour rule. He claims the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill is to practice the correct way for around 10,000 hours. Many debate Gladwell’s theory but there’s merit to it for writers.

When new writers ask me about my writing story, they shrivel with fear as I detail the long road I walked before earning my first book contract. They immediately want reassurance that not every writer takes that long and, of course, I assure them there are stories of writers who find the fast track to publication. Though, not many. They walk away comforting themselves with the thought that they’ll likely be one of those on the speedy path. I know, because I gave myself that same false comfort in years past.

Writers put in hours of study and writing practice before their work is noticed, finds a following, and becomes worthy of lasting significance. We write thousands of words that go unread. We write small pieces for unpaid markets. We write novels that remain in unopened files on our computers. We don’t quit.

Eventually, we learn that nothing is wasted. We learned and improved with each 50-word filler, each journal entry, each abandoned short story, and every rejected novel. We abandoned projects but we never abandoned the art or our own call to write. We showed up at the keyboard daily for years.
Every art has its own version of crunches and pushups. Every artist sweats, toils, and invests hard work that most will never see. The ones who do discover that excellence emerges over time. Did you write today?

Lori Stanley Roeleveld is a disturber of hobbits who enjoys making comfortable Christians late for dinner. She’s authored an unsettling blog since 2009; a pursuit that eventually resulted in her first book, Running from a Crazy Man (and other adventures traveling with Jesus). Though she has degrees in Psychology and Biblical Studies, Lori learned the most important things from studying her Bible in life’s trenches. You’ll find her at her website If not, know she’s off somewhere slaying dragons. Not available for children’s parties. 

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