When I was a kid, one of my favourite Aesop’s fables was the one about the tortoise and the hare. You remember it, I’m sure. I loved the idea that the ‘underdog’ – the character who everyone expected to lose – actually managed to win, and that determination, not speed, was what took the prize. That appealed to me.
Arthur Rackham’s illustration for ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’
I wasn’t a very sporty child, and so running races was something I really detested – I never won, in the sense of ‘I never came first’. I loved swimming, but the only time I ever thought – just for a second! – that I’d won a race in the pool, I’d actually ended up coming so far behind everyone else that all the other kids were out of the water and already half-dressed by the time I made it to the finish line. When I touched the wall at the far end of the pool, I looked around and didn’t see anyone either side of me, and just for those three seconds before I worked out what had happened, I felt like an Olympic champion.
Even though I never won at anything, though, I understood what the fable was trying to say: take it slow, take it steady, and you’ll get there in the end. Finishing a race became, to me, almost as good as coming first. Knowing I had done it, that I’d met the challenge and proved to myself that I could do it, was as good as a gold medal.
It’s amazing that I seem to have forgotten all those hard-earned childhood lessons when it comes to the race I’m currently ‘running’ – the race against time, to get all my words down before my NaNoWriMo challenge ends.
I haven’t gone anywhere near my NaNoWriMo project since Saturday morning, when I half-heartedly added a few hundred words to it, and then gave up; I didn’t even think about it all weekend. I haven’t opened the file yet this morning, and I’m – can you believe this? – a little bit afraid to. I worked very hard at it all last week, including one day when I wrote more than five thousand words because I felt like I wanted to keep going until I’d reached a certain point, but when it came to the next day – well. I couldn’t even manage two thousand words without bottoming out. I constantly do this – I race too hard one day and end up knocking myself out of the running for the days that follow. I haven’t run out of story for the NaNo project, and I haven’t run out of love for the characters – but I’ve just burned through so much mental and physical energy over the past three weeks that I’m beginning to have doubts that I’ll make it.
I have a shorter NaNo than most other people, insofar as I have to submit my words by this Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, at the latest. I will be away from my computer – indeed, any computer – from Thursday afternoon, and so my challenge will have to end early. If I don’t submit my words for counting and verification by Thursday morning, I won’t be submitting them at all. So, I suppose that’s adding to the worry – I don’t want to ‘lose’ this race. I want to finish it; I set out with the intention of finishing it, and that’s what I want to do. But, if I’d remembered the plucky tortoise from my favourite tale, and if I’d taken things slow and steady, I might not have just over 42,000 words done right now but I’d probably be a lot more enthusiastic about tackling the remainder.
I feel like a person setting off to climb a mountain, even though – when I think about it – I’m actually quite near the summit already. However, getting through these last 8-10,000 words will, I fear, be the hardest part of my NaNoWriMo journey. I’m tired, I’m cranky, my brain hurts and I just don’t want to do it – and that, my friends, is a place that no writer should ever allow themselves to end up. Writing is what I love, and putting myself in a position where I really can’t face the task of sitting down and putting one word after another due to exhaustion or burnout caused by a shortsighted inability to pace myself properly is really, really stupid.
So. I think, perhaps, it’s time to stop allowing panic to drive my NaNo train. I’ll take it slowly today and if I get a thousand words written, great. If I get two thousand written, great. If I start going over that, I think I’ll have to rein myself in and let my common sense – my inner tortoise, if you will – take over.
Slow and steady wins the race. I should just print this out and put it up over my computer – or, get it tattooed on my forehead. Whichever works, right?
Good luck with your day’s challenges. Take it steady – or, as we say in Ireland, ‘take ‘er handy.’