In Defense of Daily Quotas

Originally posted on January 26, 2011 at 9:35 PM

A writer friend of mine has thrown out some excellent writing metaphorage in reference to marathons vs. sprints. But to play the devil’s advocate…

The quota works for some people. Namely, me. And as much as “mull it over” writers might hate to believe it, I don’t think my 2,000 words a day are shit. Some days, sure, but everyone has those days – sprinters, marathoners, walkers, and cab-takers alike. Everyone. Saying that people who write more daily don’t write as well as people who write less every few days is like saying that people who run the marathon faster didn’t run it as well as the people who ran it slow. They all ran it, right? As long as you don’t quit, who cares how long it took?

There’s a reason that sitting down every day to write a quota with *almost* no exceptions works. Any (non-metaphor) runner will tell you, you have to get over the hump. Every level of runner hits it at a different place, just as some writers might feel exhausted after 300 words and others after 3,000, but every long-distance anything hits it. If you quit there, your endurance never builds, nor your skills. You’re running and for the first however many miles your body just goes, “Nope. This is madness. I refuse to participate in this senseless torture.” But if you ignore your body and just freaking run, it eventually gives in and you can run for miles. Miles and miles more than you thought you could. And every time you do that, your hump gets further along. Your endurance builds.

If you write every single day, your “muse” (whether you believe in that term or not) learns to show up. That part of your brain that produces new, creative sentences gets used to it and starts storing creativity at a faster rate. This is helpful. It means that when you want to write you can sit down and, without thinking for hours and hours first, have something ready to go. Mental note-taking becomes automatic. If you don’t write every day, which plenty of writers don’t, it’s not bad, just harder. You sit down and your muse is MIA. You have to go chase her down the rabbit hole just to put down a page or two. And argue as you will, that page or two is unlikely to be any better or worse than any page or two of a daily quota writer.

Trust me, I’ve been both.

I like to think of the daily quota as me and my muse having a running date. Every once in a while I might not show up, and every once in a while she stays in bed, but most days, we know where to meet. At the keyboard.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a proponent of breaks when one’s feeling worn-down. Muse vacations, if you will. Any writer who focuses too much on the word count for the sake of the word count has got the wrong priority. Quality over quantity is something I think we can all agree on. But there’s no reason that one has to negate the other. There’s just not. I don’t have a certain amount of “good” writing in me per day that I run out of and keep going. It’s just about effort. Are you willing to put in the effort to make your writing strong, or not? Are you willing to (forgive me) go the extra mile? First draft or fiftieth, seat-of-the-pantsers or plotters, walkers or sprinters, we all want it. All dedicated writers want it. When it comes down to it, at least in the writing metaphor, speed has nothing at all to do with a marathon. Dedication does. And I think, in spite of technique differences, we can agree on that.

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