Sunday, November 11, 2012

Of Tortoises, Hares and Writers

We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare. The two were in a race. The hare was fast, so he figured he had it made. So, he ran fast for a few hundred yards, saw the tortoise far behind him, so he laid down and took a nap. By the time he woke up, the tortoise was crossing the finish line.

Over the past 30 years, I've been in various writing groups, and I've seen the tale of the tortoise and hare acted out over and over again. Some people won't write unless they have an hour or an entire afternoon where they can get some "serious" writing done. Unfortunately, such times come rarely, so they end up writing sporadically. They may write 2000 words one Saturday, but don't get anything else written for another two weeks. Others, though, write everyday, or nearly everyday, but are apologetic about "only" writing 300-500 words a day. Guess which ones end up finishing their novels faster and sell more writing? You got it. Our writing Tortoises get more done even though, their individual writing sessions are shorter and "less productive."

I am a member of the ACFW  (American Christian Fiction Writers) Novel Track Writing email discussion group. A few months back we started the "Ten Words a Day" club. A lot of people were reporting that they hadn't written anything that day. So, many of us pledged to write at least ten words on our novels every week day, before we reported in on our daily totals. After all, it took at least ten words to report we didn't write and why.

Since that time many people have used the Ten Word a Day club to good use. Many write saying "Thank You, for the Ten Word a Day club. It has improved my productivity." How can this simple thing - writing ten words a day - improve productivity? It's because the practice breeds consistency. There are three reasons consistency produces better results than marathon writing sessions.

Consistency Creates Habitual Behavior

Okay, I have a terrible time keeping track of my keys. I'm always looking for them. Why? Because I come in from the car and drop them anywhere I happen to land. So, about a month ago, I decided I was going to have to start hanging up my keys on the key rack as I come in the door. But, I knew that having a good idea wasn't enough. I needed to train myself. I needed to create a habit of hanging up my keys. So, everyday, if I forgot and laid down my keys on the kitchen table or washer, I stopped at the point I remembered, set aside everything else and hung up the keys. After doing that for nearly a month, I almost automatically hang up my keys without thinking.

You can create habits for creative behavior as well. If you sit down at your computer to write just ten words every day, you create a habit of writing daily. Eventually, you will automatically get started on writing projects on a regular basis, even if it is only a few words at a time. You know the irony of our Ten Words a Day club? Most of us end up writing 100 words or more when we sit down to write just ten.

Consistency Reduces Preparation Time

Whether we call it "inspiration" or "the muse," many writers need to get in the mood to write. That, often requires reviewing what they already wrote, going over their notes and research, and finally getting into character and writing. This prep time can be several minutes. However, if  you write consistently, you will find that you get in the mood much quicker. Also, not having a week or more go by between writing periods means you don't have to review what has already been written to know what needs to be done next. You can sit down, open your file and start typing.

Consistency Turns Small Efforts into Big Results 

What can you do with just 300 words written in a day? That's a little more than a double-spaced typewritten sheet of paper. Most of us can do that in about 15-20 minutes at rough draft speed. In a month that would be 9,000 words. In six months it would be 54,000 or the length of a small novel. In a year, that's 109,000 words.

Now, let's look at the person who will only work when they have an hour. They get 1500 words written in their hour session, but they only do that once a week. That's 6000 a month or 78,000 in a year. Still a respectable number (Again, due to consistency), but it's 31,000 words less than the  300 word a day "tortoise."

A last word of inspiration. Lewis and Clark crossed half a continent traveling only about 25 miles a day. But they kept moving forward. As writers we can learn from that. Consistency will produce results over time.

Sometimes the problem is finding the time to write. I have addressed this issue in Time Management for Writers: You DO Have the Time to Write


  1. Terri,

    Thanks for the reminder. This is so true. We battle this all the time. All we need to do is to do some thing :)