Quotas


If you're starting out working in a new art form, you might find it so stimulating and exciting that you want to work on a new project all the time. You might burn so strong that, given time, you crash. You might look at other artists you admire and get discouraged that you haven't reached their level. Perhaps you're still excited about the idea of working, but the days are stacking up behind you in which you haven't produced anything at all.

Don't get discouraged. Figure out a realistic quota. This is hardly an original idea, but I thought I'd talk about it anyway, as its important for new artists and long-practicing artists alike. I'll emphasize that this is not an absolute rule; not everyone needs a quota. However, it might be a stimulating practice to help you see your work piling up consistently.

I'll bring it to writing, which is the art form with which I'm most familiar. If you're working on a novel, a practice many artists of the last few centuries have taken up is to write 1,000 words a day. Page lengths always vary, depending on what format you're writing in and how the book is being laid out, but 1,000 words usually comes to about three or four pages. I've even heard some writers say that 500 words is plenty in the beginning. The point is, make it a realistic goal you think you can meet on a daily basis.

You'll have to decide what quota works for you based on what kind of text you're producing. If it's narrative-heavy fiction, 1,000 words might be just enough or too much. You may be able to produce 500 words each day and post it right then and there, or maybe you'll write 2,000 words, comprised of three or four blog posts for the future.

You'll also have to decide what you want to accomplish in this 1,000 words (or however many you choose). Do you want these 1,000 words to be basically ready for publication like Anthony Burgess? Or will you do like Stephen King and write 2,000 words but go write more polished drafts later?

You can apply quotas to other arts too. It'll be different of course. If you're a musician, do you want to come up with two new riffs each day? Write a set of substantial lyrics each day? Both? Do you draw or paint? Are you trying to get one sketch done each day or are you trying to finish an entire painting? A half painting? You make your own rule.

But what I think is the absolutely most important thing to emphasize is that you should never be afraid to change and never get discouraged by not meeting your quota. No one is standing over you telling you to finish. You're not going to get worse over night because you went to the river with your friends and stayed out until dark. You might be driven by your need to work, but don't beat yourself up for writing 800 words when you should have written 200 more. You have to know when a certain rule doesn't work for you anymore, or when you should throw rules out the window altogether, or when you should just go to sleep that night and try again the next day.

As for myself, I used to work according to a quota but I don't any longer. I enjoyed it in the beginning. I watched pages stack up each day. I actually did this for years until very recently. However, it started to bog me down. It stopped working for me. Now I write when I have time and feel like it (I also work on more than one thing at once, which can greatly disrupt the idea of quotas, but I'll discuss that in another post). Getting over discouragement for not meeting your daily quota is one of the hardest things to get over. For me, it was harder than realizing that certain pieces of my work were of low quality. That's why you have to figure out what works for you.


Shane Eide