Multi-tasking writers: are you a tortoise or a hare? (Part 1)



Paula’s Post #96 

I am ‘Hare’.

No, not ‘here’ – Hare. As in Aesop’s Hare, the boastful antagonist.  At least that is how I remember these inspiring literary characters.

Tortoise as protagonist; Hare as antagonist.

And in my 5writer world, for the last few months, I’ve been feeling truly Hare-like.

Now, I do not want to play spoiler here, but I’m sure you remember that boastful Hare does not, alas, eventually win the race. For those of you who need a little literary refresher, here’s the Harvard Classic’s version of this fable from Open Culture, a cool site that boasts as having the best free cultural and educational media on the web:

Æsop. (Sixth century B.C.) Fables.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

The Hare and the Tortoise

THE HARE was once boasting of his speed before the other animals. “I have never yet been beaten,” said he, “when I put forth my full speed. I challenge any one here to race with me.” 
The Tortoise said quietly, “I accept your challenge.” 
“That is a good joke,” said the Hare; “I could dance round you all the way.” 
“Keep your boasting till you’ve beaten,” answered the Tortoise. “Shall we race?” 
So a course was fixed and a start was made. The Hare darted almost out of sight at once, but soon stopped and, to show his contempt for the Tortoise, lay down to have a nap. The Tortoise plodded on and plodded on, and when the Hare awoke from his nap, he saw the Tortoise just near the winning-post and could not run up in time to save the race. Then said the Tortoise:


Well, I am not napping like Hare, but sadly, nor am I plodding like Tortoise.

If we have a ‘tortoise’ amongst the 5writers, I guess it would be our colleague Karalee, who has created a zen-like work space, incorporated a enviable physical exercise regime into her day and who unfailingly makes small but steady daily progress on her many writing projects.

Each week, when I read the 5writers Monday check in email’s, I wish I was more like Karalee, (and Karalee, believe me, the ‘tortoise’ moniker is intended as an enormous compliment to your dedicated  ‘plodding’, one page at a time towards the conclusion of your novel in progress).

Real writers ‘plod’.

Real writers ‘suck it up’ and get the job done.

Let me give you a perfect example. One of the wonderful things about social media is that it has given all of us unprecedented access to the real life habits of working writers: they post updates; they tweet; they blog. And so it is that in the last year or so, I have started following the brilliant Louise Penny, creator of the fabulous Inspector Gamache mystery series.

She’s my facebook friend. No, really, she is. We’re like ‘this close’.

Okay, maybe I am just another nameless face in a huge sea of fans, but I do enjoy following the public updates she posts on facebook. So when she posted on January 2nd of this year:

January 2 “…will start on the third draft of the next Gamache book tomorrow…

I was curious to follow her progress and see just how long it would take her to complete the third draft. Especially since I knew how long it took me to complete a third draft (much less a first or second draft). So, let’s take a closer look at the progress of this New York Times bestselling author:

January 3 “…Started the third draft today – feels great. Will take a few days to do, of course, but after this I think it’ll be ready to send off…”

(A few days! Jeez Louise! Are you kidding me!?!)

January  5 “…Working away on the third draft…”

January 11 “…Closing in on finishing the third draft of the next Gamache book. Far less frightening (and far less work) than the first two drafts.”

January 13 “…Yay – just finished the third draft!!! Took out almost 20,000 words. The last thing I want is for the Gamache books to get bloated. Each word, each phrase must have a purpose. Taking tomorrow off then one more quick polish and then into the editors by this time next week if not before.”

January 15  “Gorgeous, clear, brittle day here – was going to take a photo to show you but that would mean going outside and, well, you know… Starting on the 4th draft of the next book. Really more a polish at this stage, I hope, but, well, you know… That is my confession for today.” 

January 16 “…Today taken up with the happy pastime of doing the fourth draft (emphasis added) of the next book. What a relief to finally be at the stage where I can read it primarily as a reader and not primarily as a half-crazed writer.

January 18 “…Nearing the end of the draft – so many moving pieces to the story, need to keep track. When I make one change it, of course, affects everything else. And each scene has to be multi-purpose, propelling the plot, enriching the characters, deepening the themes. And it all has to make sense and be natural. I think my head’s on fire. But then I step back and do a reality check – and remember that, while difficult at times, this is my dream come true.”

January 20 (Today) “…Finished the fourth draft and sent it off to the editors/agent. First time anyone other than me has read it. As soon as I hit ‘send’ I wanted it back. Every book has felt the same way.

That’s it. Did you do the arithmetic? I did, two drafts in 17 days.


Ms. Penny is like a ‘turbo-charged’ tortoise.

As Hare, I am despondent.

So why exactly am I comparing myself to Hare, the loser?

Ah, that’s a little harder to explain, but I’ll give it a try. I feel that in the last few years, I have been doing more and more but that, ultimately, I am getting less and less done, most especially as a writer. Let me elaborate:

I live in a world where I can work from anywhere: airports, beaches, planes, trains and automobiles.

Have keyboard, will travel.

Thanks to the miracle of free WiFi, my 6 email accounts and two web browsers, the internet is always with me. Thanks to my iphone and ipad, so are facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest… well, you get the idea.

My fear? I believe that today’s multi-tasking world is making ‘Hares’ of us all. We dash off in all directions and are busy, busy, busy, but oh my, how much more difficult it is to accomplish much of anything.

Now, I can hear you rumbling away out there in cyberspace. You’re thinking this is just another 5writers blog post on the venerable topic of “procrastination”. Well, yes and no.

I want to revisit a topic my 5writer colleague Silk raised back in October of 2013 entitled Hell is Multi-Tasking.

While Silk’s post focused on the difficulty of working on multiple writing projects at once, I’d like to explore what all this cross task multi-tasking is doing not only to our collective productivity, but also to our brains.

Ultimately, on a personal level, I’d like to find a way to channel or manage this ‘multi-tasking’ world to become a more productive writer, so if you have some suggestions, let me know.

In the meantime, stay tuned next week for part II of this topic.

6 thoughts on “Multi-tasking writers: are you a tortoise or a hare? (Part 1)

  1. Fantastic. For most of my life I’ve dreamed of being a hare and never made it. Finally decided to be a tortoise. Not as much fun, but so far I’ve got a couple novels [first one took fifteen years of haring] and some short stories published. Now the third novel is bogging down in hareville. As soon as I get back from visiting kids in another state, I’m going to remind myself to be a tortoise. I may even put a picture on the wall to remind me!

  2. Ah, I dream of being a tortoise! Thanks for the comment and for following the 5writers! I’ll be continuing on this topic next week, to see what may have happened to my poor brain as a result of so much multi-tasing! Congratulations on getting your works published, that is a major accomplishment tortoise!

  3. Interesting discussion on multi-tasking and how lifestyle affects writers. There is nothing wrong with being either a hare or a tortoise. Why not half-half, a creature that exists only in fables. I am usually more productive when I am spinning a few plates in the air. If I have too much time on hand it makes me less productive. You know the saying, ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person’.

  4. Have you seen that more studies show humans are really TERRIBLE at multi-tasking? Less than 1 percent of the population can actually do it for any length of time. So far this year, my blogging break is working—the word count is slowly increasing on the current WIP. I’m learning that I can’t do it all, and I can’t do multiple tasks well if I try to do them together. With that knowledge, I’m going back to the prehistoric “one thing at a time” when I can!

  5. Thanks Paula, for your compliment that my tortoise-like organization and resulting productivity has its place in this hectic world. Believe me, I have many things every day on my back-burner waiting for their turn to be done, but applying time to priorities helps keep my life in perspective. The bonus is that I’m actually getting words on paper and rather liking what I’ve written!
    I’m looking forward to your Part Two….

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