On my desk I have a tiny frame given to me by a student my first year of teaching third grade. Two fairies surrounded by flowers float around the edge and in it is a reminder I typed for myself years ago.
I first framed my mantra when I had stacks of correcting, first in elementary school, then in middle school where I had hundreds of pieces of writing from students in grades five through eight. Instead of letting myself be overwhelmed, I remembered: A little at a time. It is important to remember this when it comes to my writing.
I have always thought of myself as a patient person, which has been most helpful as a parent and a teacher, now as a grandparent, and always as a wife. As a writer, though, my patience often deserts me. In a first draft I sometimes find myself careening through a chapter instead of focusing as I should on all the small and important details that make the story richer. I get so involved sometimes in two characters having a conversation that I have pages of dialogue and not much else. These conversations are important and revealing for sure, but I know if I don’t slow down a bit and pay attention, I may miss something — a gesture, a smell or a sound, a look — details that can affect everything about the story.
I don’t have a specific word or page count that I strive for every day. Each day brings its responsibilities and demands on time, but as long as I write and feel I made progress, moved the story along and learned something about my characters, questioned things I thought I knew, it is a good day of writing.
As I revise, it is clear which pages I wrote a little too quickly and didn’t listen as closely as I should have. I’m patiently listening now, slowing down as I reread and retype and learn. A little at a time.