In Outliers, Malcom Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule. You can hear him explain it fully here, but in a nutshell it says that you have to practice your craft for 10,000 hours before you become an expert; 10,000 hours equates roughly to 10 years which means that for the first 10 years, you are an apprentice.
This applies to every industry and to every skill.
The construction team that did work on my house this summer had three apprentices at varying levels of expertise. One guy needed only occasional assistance while another (a teenager right out of high school) needed a lot of supervision. Did I think less of the teenager? Of course not. He was in his first year on the job. No one expected him to be an master craftsman, but everyone expected him to be willing to learn.
Most of the runners I work with have never run before in their lives. No one expects them to compete with the elite athletes. In fact, the elite athletes cheer them on; they applaud the novice running her first minute interval.
Gladwell says, “We’re far too impatient with people. When we assess whether someone has got what it takes to do a certain job, we always want to make that assessment after six months or a year. And that’s ridiculous. The kinds of jobs we have people do today are sufficiently complex that they require a long time to reach mastery. What we should be doing is setting up institutions and structures that allow people to spend the time and effort to reach mastery, not judging them prematurely.”
Why is it then, that as writers we insist on judging ourselves prematurely? Why do we fear that our work won’t be good enough? Good enough for what? Readers don’t expect our debut novels to compete with the masters; they expect us to be willing to learn.
We are apprentices, and that’s as it should be.