Mastering writing: The 100-hour rule

Everybody’s heard about the 10,000-hour rule. That’s the rule that says to become a top-notch practitioner of a skill, whether that skill is playing tennis or violin, making ceramics or taking x-rays, a person needs to put in 10,000 hours practicing that skill.

What everybody ignores is that those 10,000 hours of practice are done only after student of the skill has mastered the basics. Basic skill mastery has its own rule, the 100-hour rule.

Most skills require 100 hours of practice using the basic procedures and techniques of that skill to become adept enough to profit from additional study.

Learning a skill requires doing the skill

Nobody masters a skill just from reading about it, or just from hearing lectures about it, just from discussing it in a small group, or just from watching YouTube videos about it. Skill mastery requires the learner to do the entire activity repeatedly.

Practicing some critical, small part of the process in isolation may be necessary, but skill mastery comes only by practicing the skill for its intended purpose. That means the violist must practice playing entire pieces, the baker must practice baking entire pies, the writer must practice writing entire documents.

Sometimes a person masters a skill on their own, simply by trial and error. But all too often when errors exceed successes, people lose heart and quit trying to master the skill. Most people require assistance from others who have already mastered the skill.

Teaching a skill requires distillation

To give learners the 100 hours of appropriate practice they need to master the basics of a skill may not require someone who put in the 10,000 hours’ work to master the basics. People who are really good at a skill aren’t always good at teaching that skill to others: They know too much. They overwhelm the novices. They forget how long it too them just to get to the point that they didn’t have to think about what to do next.

Someone may have only 1,000 hours or only 300 hours beyond the basic 100, but if that person can distill into a few simple steps what the newbie needs to learn, that person can probably do as good or better a job teaching newbies than the expert, providing that person can distill what the newbie must learn into a few short, easy-to-understand sentences. As long as what must be learned as information is short and clear, the procedure it describes can be complicated and delicate. That’s why my program for teaching writing consists of only eight sentences totaling 33 words. The first sentence is here.

Skilled teachers help learners 10 ways

Whether the skill they need is bricklaying or baking, trigonometry or writing, skilled practitioners can help. To be helpful, a skilled person—a.k.a. the teacher—needs to be able to perform 10 tasks for the learner:

  1. Provide learners with physical tools and vocabulary required to learn the skill.
  2. Point out the sequence of actions the skill requires.
  3. Allow learners to watch them perform the skill at a very basic level.
  4. Identify the most crucial aspects of the skill.
  5. Make learners practice the skill under their supervision.
  6. Drill learners on the most crucial aspects of the skill.
  7. Correct learners’ technique during practice sessions.
  8. Make sure learners can go through the entire skill without outside assistance.
  9. Make sure learners actually use the skill without their supervision.
  10. Schedule regular practice sessions until each learner has spent 100 hours practicing the basics of the skill.

Every teacher who wants students to master a skill must be ready, willing, and able to perform each of those tasks—and then do them as learners require.

Next week, if things go as planned, I’ll show you how to provide required 100 hours’ writing practice to teens or adults in 15 weeks.

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni


ABCs tell warm bodies how to teach nonfiction writing

Most people who end up teaching nonfiction writing get into it the way I did, by being the most convenient warm body the administration could find readily.Cover of The Writing Teacher's ABCs

The Writing Teacher’s ABCs: Help Teens and Adults to Competent Nonfiction Writing is for them.

The Writing Teacher’s ABCs  isn’t an “everything you need to know” book.

It’s more of a “the least you can get by with while you figure out what you’re doing” book.

I broke the big, frightening process  of teaching writing into 26 short, practical chapters, so

even if someone isn’t a great writer,
even if someone never taught nonfiction writing before, and
even if someone has  no clue where to begin,

The Writing Teacher’s ABCs will give them enough to get started and keep ahead of their students until they get the hang of teaching writing.

Get a free copy

I’m giving away copies of The Writing Teacher’s ABCs to the first 100 people who surf over to digital publisher

The book is available at in pdf format for computer viewing, in EPUB for iPad and other ebook readers and phones, and in MOBI for Kindle.

Only 100 copies of the book have been set aside for this offer, so if you want a copy, don’t delay. The giveaway ends Feb. 28, 2015, if the quantity hasn’t already been exhausted.

Buyers who arrive too late to get a totally free copy,  can preview the front matter and two chapters, and then set their own price.

If that’s not good enough, there’s a 45-day, no questions asked, money-back guarantee.

You can Tweet about the book using the hashtag #abcwrite .

If We Taught Music the Way We Teach Writing

If we taught music  the way we teach writing, students would have one unit on playing the flute

Child playing a traverse flute

followed by a recital attended only by the teacher.

Then students would do one study unit on playing the piano

Feeling the keys of the piano

followed by a recital attended only by the teacher.

Next, students would do a unit on playing the drums

hands playing on African drum

followed by a recital attended only by the teacher.

The year would culminate in a study unit on playing the violin

boy playing violin

followed by a recital attended only by the teacher.

Blond woman playing guitar and singing with children in South Africa

Having put students through this rigorous program of musical instruction, schools would grant students a diploma and send them out into a world that expects them to sing before a worldwide audience while accompanying themselves on a guitar.

Photo credits:

Flauta travessera by citricusss; Touch by am-y;  Violin by pdsimao; Rhythm and Beat 1 by pixelstar; Song  by Annavix