That magic number, however, can also add up to despair. For example, I am a fledgling poet. (I won't say a "budding" poet, since that would entail some Hegelian confidence that I'll "bloom!") Given the shape of my family commitments, my professional obligations, my other writing projects, and my general laziness and inertia, that translates into about 1 hour per month writing poetry. So let's do the math: at that rate, I'd be approaching greatness right around the time I'd be giving Methusaleh a run for his money. Sigh.
And it turns out that Gladwell is probably right. I recall Donald Hall, in Unpacking Boxes, describing hours and hours of practice, producing reams and reams of detritus, and perched upon that pile is an iceberg-tip's worth of great poetry. As Hall recounts:
Where I sit today, working at my desk, there are shelves behind me that are dense with abandoned or unfinished work--including the book-length mock epic in iambic pentameter. Behind my neck roosts a rookery of bad manuscript. To write as much as I have done, I have needed often to fail.
I also recall that Hall was a precocious only child--as was Updike. A pattern here? In any case, if 10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness, what can you get for, say, 636? Upon doing the math, one begins to wonder if it's worth starting.