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charmingbillie

December 2011

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A Post About Tracking That Will Turn Out To Be About Writing

Many years ago I was working on passing a TDX track with my first dog.

TDX (Tracking Dog Excellent) requirements are:

--Three to five hours old
--800 to 1,000 yards long
--4 articles
--2 crosstracks
--2 obstacles

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.

...and works.

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.

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.

Be good.

Comments

Oh, for heaven's sake. Writing isn't a performance art.
Unless you're Harlan Ellison in the shop window :)
You're reading the wrong discussions! And in your case, it's about the awesome, not the speed.
Well, I've never yet heard anyone say--I wish I could slow my writing down. But there are definitely people out there who should.
Love this post, Deb. I wish I could remember that sometimes, like in your tracking example, the journey can be just as important -- if not more important -- than the destination. So many times I get mired in writing a first draft or a revision and am focusing so much on the deadline that forget that hey, writing is *fun*.
It's a journey, not a destination. I should have that posted somewhere so I see it first thing every morning.
We should have it tattooed on the back of our hands.
Oh, hey, thanks. I needed to hear this. (Also, I enjoyed your post a while back that the author's age doesn't matter. Can you guess that I'm a slow, older author? :-) I appreciate these posts.
Thanks. It's all stuff I have to remind myself about over and over :)