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Why it's ok to be a tortoise

This is exactly what I look like when I sit down to write.
You might know this feeling. It starts when you turn on your computer. Facebook needs to be checked, because someone might have tagged you in a disastrous photo. Your email needs to be checked, because someone might have emailed you the most amazing link of all time. And you need to check the news, because there might be an impending zombie apocalypse. But you fight all of this and open MS Word.

After a long pause, mostly spent thinking about zombies, you type four words. They are all clumsy, ugly words. You rearrange them. You manage a few sentences. Then your cat leaps on top of your keyboard. On the internet, which you're honestly not checking right now, not really, one of your best friends is online. I've written, like, 400,000 words today. I'm on some kind of roll, they say. You writing at the moment? You sigh.

You check your word count. Today, so far, you have written 32 words. Then you realise you haven't deleted your cat's contribution yet. You growl quietly to yourself. You type one sentence, then another. Every word seems to weigh a tonne. Then you notice you've contradicted something you said earlier. You remove 25 words. At this point, it's awfully tempting to abandon the whole exercise. But you ignore the toast cravings, the internet, your neglected pets and children. You type. And you type.

And there are a couple of things that can happen. One is that you could break through all this. An epic number of words could find their way out of you. You could stop, let out a breath you didn't know you'd been holding, and lean back in your chair in a state of productively productive happy happiness. 

But the other thing could happen. It could be a tortoise day. The world moves very slowly on a tortoise day. You could sit fighting for hours and produce, you know, two words, that both turn out to be wrong. And all the while it seems like the internet is full of racing hares, scampering out millions and millions of words. Sometimes, the thought of a possible tortoise day is so depressing that you don't even want to take the risk. You could abandon things now and never know. But you don't. You risk being the tortoise. And you clench your teeth and you write write write, and hope that you come out the other side intact.

Chances are, you won't have a tortoise day. You'll have a decent day. Or even a good day. Or a fantastical zillions of words day. But what if you're unlucky? What if this is the day when you can't remember why you're doing this, when you can only type at a rate of one and a half words per hour, when you make such slow progress it's unbelievable that you could be making progress at all? Doesn't it prove you're the worst writer in the world, if you have a day like this?

No. All writers have tortoise days - the famous, the unpublished, and everyone in between. In the end, the tortoise days are just as important as the sprinting hare days. Because it's not about who goes fastest. It's about making stories out of nothing, one sentence at a time. And if you keep going, no matter how slowly you go, you'll win.

Leila Austin

Leila lives in Middle Earth, also known as New Zealand, and writes YA fantasy.

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  1. Yay! I'm not the only tortoise! I think I just have more of those days than most people...and my cat doesn't even help.

  2. Waay to make me feel better!
    This is why NaNo never ever works out for me. The day I win NaNo (which will never happen) I'll know the world's spinning wrong.

  3. This year nano is killing me. I don't know why. I'm like 15,000 words behind, and that's only because I've managed to crunch out 6,000 this weekend.


    "It's about making stories out of nothing, one sentence at a time. And if you keep going, no matter how slowly you go, you'll win."

    Maybe one of my fave writing quotes ever.

  4. I agree with Claire that quote.

  5. Very true and very reassuring that we are all in one way or another tortoise writers :-)Today is a tortoise day for me but one sentence at a time, I am getting to my goal.

  6. This is a fantastic post. People don't like to talk about those days when it'd be less painful to have a root canal at the dentist than write, but they certainly happen and sometimes more often than we'd like to imagine.

    But as long as you keep writing it doesn't matter, because it's not a race, it's a marathon, and every word counts (you know, except for the ones your cat added on. Unless your cat is a genius).

  7. Wow. I can't even say how much I needed this. Thank you, Leila. <3

  8. I think the middle of November was the perfect time for this post. Writing sprints work for some people - I don't know how. Oh well...we do what we can do! (and when I do sprint, I'm pretty likely to delete most of it later!)

  9. Such a great post! I think I have tortoise days more than the average person.

    My friends write so much and end up finishing their first drafts in a short amount of time, and I still keep working on the same story.

    It's good to know that I'm not the only one who has days like these.

  10. Great post! I've made myself guilty for having tortoise days. It's nice to know I'm not the only one and it's part of the process. :)


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