Is Acting a Muscle? Use It or Lose It?

By Fernanda Karpienski | Last Updated: December 23, 2023
In Malcolm Gladwell’s blockbuster book, Outliers, whether you are a violin player or a painter, a writer or a dancer, in whatever craft you are developing you must commit 10,000 intensive hours of training before you become an expert. Such a rule is true for acting as well.
Think about it. How is it that Mozart wrote Symphony No. 1 in E major, K. 16, a symphony still hailed to be brilliant, at the precocious age of eight? Certainly he had help from his family genes. But that alone is not the reason for such a feat in musicianship. If you dig a little deeper — and this goes into pretty much any master or world-renown success story — you will 99% of the time discover that there was some subterranean toiling that generally occurred for a decade before anyone ever heard of the famous athlete, musician or actor’s name.
10,000 hours of deliberate practice is what it takes. And as an actor, it is very important to understand that there is no rule in favor of waiting around in between projects. In fact, if you are tempted to take a pause in action in your acting career — like a professional basketball player, more than likely your shot will get amiss and you might lose that momentum you took so long to develop.
So, in the theme of the winter holidays, whereupon projects are normally suspended for weeks while folks take to kissing baby nephews and hardening their views fighting step-father’s over political differences — remember to not let up in the training. And taking Malcolm Gladwell’s rule in mind, I have prepared a list of helpful tips on how to make sure you keep in shape and reach your 10,000 hours, sooner rather than later, if you have not already hit that very exciting mark:
1. Do something every day to advance either your artistic side or your business side. Whether this might include your daily perusing of casting calls on various platforms, practicing monologues, or even reading acting books — all of these little daily routines add up to improve your craft and increase your number of training hours.
2. Tape yourself doing a monologue and review it to see if you can improve it.This routine will help you see what you want to do less of or more of. Studying your performance will also give you important insights onto what exactly you need to train harder at.
3. Learn how to be an entrepreneur of your acting career. Watch a TED Talk, read books on business, and remind yourself that the most successful actors are not merely brilliant performers. They are business minded individuals, whose career decisions are often grounded in a carefully developed set of principals for which each actor defines the kind of life they want to have in the industry.
4. Read a book about screen writing. Just like a writer needs to be reading novels and other writer’s work constantly, such is a similar case for actors. As an actor, if you are not reading full scripts from front to back, you are losing a great opportunity to study acting from the lens of a writer/director.
5. Observe those around you in everyday life. How does the lonesome man sit at the park while pondering whatever melancholy experience besieged him? Does it look as though from a distance, the young man is telling his girlfriend some very pressing news about something which befell him? How does he look at her? Does he try and hold her hand or does he keep at a distance as he speaks? The more you study those around you, the more you will come to realize how many countless decisions you have as an actor to employ on set in any given scene to produce an effect.
Take these 5 tips and do at least one of them each day of the week. You can do it en transit on the subway. You can carve out large swathes of time at home before any obligation comes up. The main thing is doing one of them, and doing them consistently, and wracking up your hours so that you become that name everything thinks just go lucky and made it to the big time. While in reality, you can just keep all those thousands of hours of working in obscurity to yourself. No one needs to know about those days.
-Fernanda Karpienski