How Grandmasters Get So Good

Laura Crenshaw
3 min readJan 16, 2022

You’ve probably heard of the 10,000-hour rule… A music professor once observed that the only difference between Violin majors who were good enough to be professional violinists and those who would do something else with their lives boiled down to how much time they’d put into their art. Mediocre players had practiced 7–8K hours. The “talented” ones had practiced on average 10K.

Malcolm Gladwell told this story in his book Outliers. Since then it’s been generally accepted that if you spend 10,000 hours doing something — -anything — -you’ll be good enough at it to do it for a living.

But there’s a catch.

One of my favorite books, So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport, tells the other side of this story.

Intrigued by the 10,000 theory, professional statisticians decided to put it to the test. Chess players track their progress meticulously, providing instant access to massive datasets. Wins and Losses gradually add up, providing an extremely accurate — and completely objective — look at how talented any given player is. So this is who the statisticians studied.

To their surprise, they discovered that players who had spent 10,000 hours in the game fell into TWO categories… Some were playing at Grandmaster level, while others were decidedly average.

So they set out to find out why.


The chess world, like any elitist sub-culture, has two schools of thought.

One side says the best way to learn chess is through study — -formal lessons, reading books, etc. The other insists that the best way to learn chess is to compete in tournaments.


Neither. And both.

Without exception, the most talented players spent approximately half their 10,000 hours studying chess, and the other half playing. These players DOMINATED at tournaments.


There’s a limited amount of crappy writing in you. But writing is necessarily narcissistic. Just writing on your own, spending lots of time in your own little world, you will get better… but there’s a limit to how much you can learn without external insights.

If you’re serious about writing, you should spend half your writing time studying the craft.

Schedule it out. Track your progress. Ask for recommendations. Talk with people you admire. Get feedback so brutal it makes you cry and take it to heart.

Here are my favorite sources of inspiration:

For Writing Craft:

  • The Emotional Craft of Fiction, by Donald Maass. Donald owns one of the top literary agencies in North America. He’s a dynamite writer with a keen eye, and he absolutely nails it in this book. Best thing on my shelf.
  •, Brandon Sanderson’s creative writing lectures (two full semesters, FREE)
  • Story, by Robert McKee.
  • Apex Writers, a monthly subscription group that comes with free access to David Farland’s complete database from David Farland has taught thousands of serious artists over the years, including Brandon Sanderson, James Dashner, and Stephanie Meyer.

Using beta readers and having a professional-level writer’s group also helps tremendously.

For brilliant examples of good craft:

  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo
  • The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
  • Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
  • Beyonders, by Brandon Mull
  • Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett
  • Uprooted, by Naomi Novik (First chapter excerpt here)

What’s your favorite source of writing inspiration & education?



Laura Crenshaw

CEO of Mythulu | Entrepreneur, Novelist & Fire Spinner 🔥 | Passionate about the economics of art.