Everyone knows the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, right? If not, where have you been for the last three thousand years? Basically a rabbit and a turtle decide to have a long distance race and the rabbit is so fast and so far ahead that he takes a nap before reaching the finish line. Of course, the turtle keeps moving slowly to the finish line and crosses over before the rabbit wakes from his nap. Slow and steady wins the race.
Or as stated in Dan Pink’s book The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: perseverance trumps talent. That’s an important concept for us writers. You have to plug away at this craft day by day and page by page. You only get better by doing. When we see a great piece of writing, we’re not looking at the first draft. We’re looking at the crystallized, edited version. It might be the fourth draft or the eleventh draft or the thirty-seventh draft. We only see the finished work.
Sometimes when you look at your own writing and compare it to more established writers, it’s easy to think that you’ll never get there. You’ll never be that good. You don’t have the talent. There’s only one cure for that. Write more. You have to write. You have to persevere. You have to strive to improve.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers, he discusses the idea that maybe there is no such thing as talent. People that we call talented have usually put in many, many hours towards that skill that makes them talented (hockey, music, writing, etc.). How many hours? Upwards of 10,000 hours. And trust me, it takes a long time to spend 10,000 hours on something.
Ray Bradbury said that you have to write a million words before you become a writer. This blog is only 717 words. So, you’d have to write about 1400 blogs to write that many words! It’s not an easy task.
You better like that thing that you’re going to spend so much time on it. Maybe the true talent of the “talented” is their love and/or commitment to the skill that keeps them going back to practice and get better every day. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. You have to write every day.
One of the best ways to get to the place of daily writing is to set tiny goals and build on them. I started the year wanting to write a page a day. I had established the habit at the end of last year. Obviously, I hadn’t established it strongly enough, because I let it lapse. And I mistakenly thought I could jump right back where I stopped.
Two weeks ago, with a goal of writing a page a day, I wrote half a page. Half a page for the entire week! Last week, with a goal of writing a half page a day, I wrote 15 pages. This week, I’ve increased my goal to ¾ of a page. I will let you know next week how it turned out.
The key is that even if I only write three quarters of a page a day, that’s five and a quarter pages at the end of the week. It’s way more than the output was when I set my goal higher than I was ready to accomplish. More importantly, the daily amount isn’t so big that it’s discouraging. And because it is attainable, I’m completing the work every day; often surpassing the daily quota.
If you are finding that you aren’t meeting your writing goals, instead of getting pissed off with yourself and beating yourself up, set a smaller goal. Consistency is the real goal here. Consistency of output. Regular writing. Putting the seat of the pants into the seat of the chair and writing.
Once you can meet your smaller goal consistently, then you can consider increasing it. Maybe you need to keep it small and attainable for a long time. Even if you only write half a page every day for a year, that’s a draft and half of a play.
Be persistent. Have a “turtle mind” and set some attainable goals that you can do consistently. Slow and steady wins the race.
P.S. I lost two pounds last week.