On `the 10-Year Rule’ and Creativity

It takes an average of 10 years, before you can do anything masterfully-creative in any specific domain:

`Creative achievement presumes that the creator acquires the knowledge and skills necessary to produce world-class work in the chosen domain of achievement. Typically it takes about a full decade of deliberate practice and learning before reaching the point that you can start producing masterworks. This is the so-called “10-year rule.”’ (Simonton 2011: 119)

Time clock

(See also: http://creativity.netslova.ru/Ten-year_rule.html for more, and see also Genius Explained, Howe 1999: p5)

And this `10-year rule’ correlates with:

“Internalising the Domain”

Csikszentmihalyi finds that in order to produce a work that will be judged creative by the field, a person must learn the rules of the domain, and practice their art/craft, a process which can take ten years on average. (M. Csikszentmihalyi 1996: 47), (Csikszentmihalyi 2004: 10-11 mins).

(See the 10 to 11 mins mark of this TED talk for “the ten-year rule”)

This concept partially correlates (overlaps) with Bourdieu’s notion of habitus, or acquiring “a feel for the game”, noting that habitus is also acquired over an entire lifetime; where internalising the creative domain forms part of, and informs, an individual’s habitus.

You think this is a GAME

What the heck is a habitus?

Habitus – `a feel for the game’, a `practical sense’ that is gained through experience (Bourdieu and Johnson 1993: 5).

a ‘practical sense’ [sens practique] that inclines agents to act and react in specific situations in a manner that is not always calculated and that is not simply a question of conscious obedience to rules. Rather it is a set of dispositions which generates practices and perceptions.

(Bourdieu and Johnson, 1993: 5).

Successful filmmakers (for example, creators of extremely profitable, or award-winning films) could be seen to have developed an effective habitus, which enabled them to create such films.

Notably, the constraints and possibilities of the `game’ of filmmaking are not presented as rules, but as `possible winning strategies’. (Bourdieu and Johnson 1993: 184)

Winning strategies

A potential winning strategy                   Another potential winning strategy

10 years’ worth of Screenwriting Manuals

So, in 1995 and 1996, I studied Screenwriting at the AFTRS. I read over 100 books on Story, and Screenwriting. I summarized them into 1 page each. You can download the free Screenwriting Textbook (PDF) here:


Feature Screenwriters Wkbk cover

But – given “the 10-year rule”: a writer then needs to spend an average of 10 years, writing a screenplay a year, before they will have mastered that domain (film screenwriting). Likewise, 10 years, making films, before you can make a masterful film.

The Kid

Also a cool video that shows how Things Take Time: (eg 10 years)

…Thoughts/ Comments / Feedback…?


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/


Bourdieu, Pierre and Johnson, Randal (ed.) (1993), The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press).

Howe, M. (1999), Genius Explained, Cambridge: University Press.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on `flow’ at TED in 2004 (TED Conferences LLC, 2004), Csikszentmihalyi (dir.).

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1996), Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (1st edn.; New York: HarperCollins) viii, 456 p.

Simonton, Dean Keith (2011), Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press).


And – an excerpt (on tacit knowledge) from Dr Susan Kerrigan’s 2011 PhD thesis: 

Kerrigan, S (2011), ‘Creative Documentary Practice: Internalising the Systems Model of Creativity through documentary video and online practice‘, PhD thesis, The University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia.

`Tacit Knowledge provides a rational explanation of the process of skill and knowledge embodiment and our inability to articulate our own understandings of what we have learnt to do during practice. As Polanyi argues ‘[t]here are things that we know but cannot tell.This is strikingly true for our knowledge of skills’ (1962: 601). Polanyi extends this idea by stipulating that there are two types of Tacit Knowing, the practical and the intellectual which ‘are always found combined to some extent and are sometimes found combined equally’ (Polanyi, 1962: 604). The notion of the Reflective Practitioner as exemplified by Donald Schön (1987), draw on the concept of tacit knowledge by pointing out that the practitioner knows what to do because the ‘knowing is in the action’ (Schön, 1987: 25,original emphasis). An individual’s ability to observe how they embody and reproduce these skills and knowledges is described as reflection-in-action (Schön, 1987: 26).Practitioners reflect in action during action, and doing so enables them to remain immersed in the moment while also adjusting what they are doing in order to improve their performance. After the moment of action has passed, the practitioner reflects-on-action.By looking back over the outcomes of practice the practitioner can learn from their experiences through analysis and summation. Schön’s reflective practice moments are essential to practitioner led research because they are based on the researcher’s ability to identify transferrable skills and formulate generalisations or theories from experiences,which may be transferred and/or may shape future actions (Schön, 1987: 31). Following Schön’s work, researcher John Cowan coined the term reflection-for-action (1998: 37) to describe the anticipatory reflection which a practitioner engages in when preparing for action. It is argued here that this reflective cycle comprised of reflection-in-action,reflection-on-action and reflection-for-action, can be effectively used if employed during the learning of practical skills.’

(Kerrigan 2011, pp. 25-7)

Dr Susan Kerrigan’s thesis is online here.


33 thoughts on “StoryAlity #7 – On `the 10-Year Rule’ and Creativity

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  18. This is fascinating and wonderful! Thanks JT, I’ve often contemplated these concepts and here they are, theorised! I began working on my writing skills when I was 23 (short stories and poetry mostly), and it wasn’t until I was 34 that I wrote my first novel. Years later, the first novel looks silly to me. I know my skills are constantly ‘evolving’ (!) and I have a strong sense of my tacit knowledge – and crikey it’s a pain in the arse when I’m facing the growth edges (the knowing but inability to tell in the fiction form) and forced into reflective practice (I love Schon’s model) when I just want to charge forward.
    I’ve emailed your blog to a friend who is a screenwriter (Cam Eason) and my daughter who is an actress/
    writer (Kyrie Capri); she’s considering studying film at RMIT (rather than complete a straight Arts degree at Latrobe)
    cheers JT, Cassy

    • Thanks heaps Cassy… always glad if this stuff helps anyone…
      (and, I can’t stand all my own early novels & screenplays, either 🙂
      But I guess that means, I now have more tacit knowledge, or habitus, or – something…
      – JT

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  30. Dear JT

    Man, thanks so much for your blog; I’m working through it top to bottom in preparation for writing my third feature length screenplay – one that I consider to perhaps be most closest to my heart and an honest reflection of what I really want to “say” as a filmmaker; what I want the field to experience and go “this deserves a space in the domain.” Nonetheless, I’ve some questions for you:

    1) I find it interesting that you keep on emphasising the idea of the “Ten Year Rule”, if I may call it that. It kind of reminds me of the 10,000 hours which, if you work it out over years and days would require the artist to do roughly 2.7 hours of work per day over ten years to reach this point. I also find it interesting that you suggest for a writer to truly “find his voice” – if I can put it like that – he or she needs to write a screenplay a year for ten consecutive years. Now, I haven’t done this, BUT I’ve written two (soon to be three) features, and written and/or developed in excess of 30 feature, short and TV projects over the last decade that I’ve been working in the industry; and interestingly this year marks that decade! But, do you feel that for a writer to reach this point he must truly write ten features over ten years, or is it – as with most things creative, not a hard and fast rule, but a guideline?

    2) I have worked in the industry in many capacities: camera operator, editor (spent many years working on reality TV shows, shorts, doccies, features, commercials), director (shorts, music videos, commercials), producer (shorts, commercials) and writer (shorts, features, and recently twelve episodes of a thirteen part TV series). As such I suppose I’m a hyphenate, and beyond that it has been impossible for me to focus JUST on writing; but I feel that work in all these different fields has amplified my abilities as a writer because it’s allowed me to see filmmaking from so many different angles (editing especially is the best school for a writer-director). This is also why I refer to myself as a filmmaker rather than director, writer or writer-director. What are your thoughts into how this experience and investment in multiple translates insofar as the Ten Year Rule for a hyphenate?

    That’s about it for now – long post, I know, but thanks so much for this blog; it is proving incredibly insightful and – as a master procrastinator – at least now I’m not writing because I’m reading your blog which is really enriching! Hope to hear your thoughts soon!

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