Once upon a time there was a tortoise and a hare, two twenty-five cent animals when a two cent one would do. The tortoise challenged the hare to a race in an attempt to validate his choices in life and the hare’s implication that the tortoise’s actual natural talents made him a lesser being. The hare, more than willing to prove himself to an obviously self-deprecating and maybe delusional individual, agreed (instead of kowtowing to the tortoise’s insecurities like he should have).
So, they race. The tortoise goes slow and steady. The hare tears out in fast bursts then takes a break. Of course, mostly he thinks he can get away with it because the other members of the race are so awful that he doesn’t need to maintain higher standards. Due to this hubris—and not really the superiority of the tortoise’s tactics—the tortoise manages to surpass him and win.
I have problems with this story.
They shouldn’t have raced in the first place. They have very different talents and having one try to conform to the other’s, or to limit their definitions of success, is stupid. Secondly, this seems to be an issue of pride. If “speed” was what caused the hare to lose, then it shouldn’t have been that he stopped in confidence, but rather a direct ramification of going too fast, like perhaps blitzing forward caused him to run out of energy. Which is a real thing in racing; it’s important to be steady instead of running your body into the ground. Many racers do discuss how those who don’t pace themselves will wipe out before they can get to the finish line.
But even if we were to say that the story does have the hare tire himself out in some versions, let’s be honest here; it’s not talking about racing. It’s supposed to be a metaphor.
How does speed apply to other things? When you try to be too fast, you have the tendency to make more mistakes, you can’t be as precise—or so they claim. Is that what happens with the hare? Not really. In fact, his story is directly correlated and limited to physical speed. It doesn’t make sense for anything else.
So let’s examine this. Does slow really win the race? Only if your other teammates screwed up. The hare is faster than the turtle, so if he went a speed he could keep constant and the tortoise went at a speed he was okay at, and the hare kept his standards high, the tortoise would have lost.
The key word here is “steady.” Steadiness wins the race. Or, more to the point, steadiness will be what makes you complete the race.
People attempt to validate their decisions by putting down other author’s goals and tactics. They say that you cannot write fast and have it be as good as someone who took a long time with something. They put down prolific writers, those who schedule out writing hours or word counts. And then you have people doing the opposite, insisting that working by inspiration only cannot be successful, that you must write every day.
When it comes to speed in writing, yes, writing fast does tend to harbor less precision. On the whole (not always), it can garner more typos, unintentional word choice, and some unthoughtout continuity plot holes. But, on the other side, writing slowly does tend to harbor more big picture errors. The details tend to be better, but the writer often forgets plot points, rules of the world, details that are not located close together.
Writing fast tends to have a more organic flow, a genuine sense of self, and truth. Writing slow tends to have better word choice, tighter plotlines, and more of a point. But both can be result terribly, fast writing having more tangents, detailed mistakes, writing slow a more forced, mechanical, disjointed storyline and voice. It’s all about balance. Balance for the writer, balance for that book, balance for that scene.
Plus, slowness without steadiness doesn’t work any better than writing fast. If you write something, don’t think about it for months, and then write something else, you’ve actually spent the same amount of time as someone who wrote the same word count in two days. Writing slowly actually means spending more time editing, researching, and just contemplating the book, but many “slow” authors are really just people who aren’t working steadily. It’s the fast authors who are steady, they are the ones working every day.
Sure, there’s benefit to writing when inspired. You do write better. Few people can put a book down without thinking about it, so the months in between did probably mean some contemplation. But many people aren’t inspired to work on the same book constantly, and those who work on something every day tend to think about it more. There are obvious benefits to writing a lot quickly, and if you haven’t tried it, consider it. You might learn something new about yourself.
It doesn’t matter if you chose to be the hare, trying to take it all in one burst, or the tortoise, going at a steady pace. The only thing that matters if you’re doing it at all.
I bring this up because currently I am in Deadwood, South Dakota, on a road trip to move to Australia for a few months (at least). I have long been aware that I work best under routine or habit; I’d get up in the morning and write five pages before getting on with my day. Whenever something changed and I needed to evolve with it, I found writing difficult, and that was usually when I experienced a hiccup.
I’m trying to write when I get the moment. It’s difficult, in ways, more so because I am also attempting to balance out spending time with the boyfriend. He doesn’t need as much sleep as me, so he goes to bed later and wakes up when I do. If he’s up, he wants me to watch this movie with him or talk to him, and it makes working difficult. Plus, I’m so exhausted at the end of the day, and we’ve been sleeping in a car to save money, so we attempt to get out of our spot as early as possible. I’ve ended up doing my writing mostly at lunch and when he’s gone to the bathroom.
I’m not my most productive, but it has felt, in a strange way, easier. Because I haven’t focused on page count, but rather writing the ten minutes I get the chance, the pressure off makes the writing flow more easily. I mean, I’ve already written more now at eight a.m. this morning than I did yesterday, but that is because I went back into my old flow.
I have always believed in changing up how you write to keep writing new and fun, but I never realized just how much I depended on my schedule to get things done. I thought of myself as a disorganized person, not liking structure. And I do guess that lacking structure is more fun. It seems to be a balance of enjoyment and success.
Fun does make for more enjoyable reading, but I find that steady writing—while garnering a wide variety of a results—gives you more to work with. You can’t edit what’s not written, can’t read it either. So while I like examining how change effects my writing, I still can’t wait to set up a new routine.