A Post About Tracking That Will Turn Out To Be About Writing
TDX (Tracking Dog Excellent) requirements are:
--Three to five hours old
--800 to 1,000 yards long
Tracking is theoretically non-competitive. You're either perfect or you're not. You either pass or you fail. There is no time limit, as long as the dog is actively working (in the opinion of the judges). This doesn't stop people from bragging--my dog got her TD in five minutes or my dog ran his TDX in seven minutes. Because we are human and we like to compete.
Riley, my first dog, and I had been working on our TDX for awhile, had already nearly passed one hot day near Chicago but were defeated by the heat. So, now it's November and we're in a test in southern Iowa. Riley is a pretty fast tracker, though she wastes a lot of time on corners. I pick up the first article--a scarf--and she starts great. She makes the first turn on the hill and pretty much right away we find the second article--a sneaker. I have nowhere to actually put a sneaker so I stuff it down the front of my jacket.
We zip through a creek and up another hill. Riley makes another turn goes down that leg and...nothing. For twenty minutes she works and works and works the corner on the side of a hill.
I think we should quit. I want to quit so bad I can taste it. But the judges don't whistle and Riley doesn't quit. Eventually we go on, skirt an obstacle and find the third article--a pair of socks. We go back up another hill. I become convinced that the turn is at a small cedar tree and waste ten minutes before I let her back up and pick up the track again. We make one more turn and run a nice last leg to the glove.
Total time: 54 minutes.
Average time for a successful TDX track is 15 to 20 minutes. It can be done--fast--in seven minutes or so.
But here's the thing: our 54 minute track? Was the most awesome thing I have ever done in my life ever. The. Most. Awesome. Would it have been as awesome if we'd done it in five minutes or seven minutes? I don't know. It doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter.
That was sixteen years ago next month and I still remember every turn and what the articles were. Because it was that awesome.
I saw a discussion recently where someone was talking about taking just a few hours from concept to finished edited short story. Part of the discussion of this was, inevitably, how that was a sign of a professional, wicked fast and ready to send.
But here's the thing. Writing isn't actually a speed contest. When your published novel or story is sitting in someone's hands they have no idea how long it took you to write it. What they care about is whether it's good. So don’t worry about being fast or slow.