The Value of Practice


Film critic Roger Ebert died this afternoon. An incredibly accomplished writer and journalist who did not let hardship hold him back in his later years. But not all writing came easy to Ebert. Despite 107 entries, he had never won a New Yorker cartoon caption contest.

Until 2011, when after seven years of trying, he at last got published, with the effort below.


You can read several other entries that Ebert submitted over the years  (they're quite good) and the back story here.

The point for me (and our kids) is the larger tale about the value of practice in making one into a skilled writer.

In 2009 Ebert complained, "Mark Twain advised: Write without pay until somebody offers to pay you. If nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for. I have done more writing for free for the New Yorker in the last five years than for anybody in the previous 40 years."

But maybe five years is what it takes to be good enough: In the New Yorker's story about Ebert's achievement, Robert Mankoff confirmed why this kind of persistence and practice matters:

Jack Ziegler, who has published more than fourteen hundred cartoons in The New Yorker, once remarked to me that he finally started getting the hang of it after about the three thousandth one.

ICS won't ask your child to write 3,000 carton captions. But we definitely integrate values like practice and persistence, and learning from failure, into our approach.