On Writing, What I'm Writing! :D

The Twenty Mile March

I want to try a different blog post format this week. The past few times I’ve been giving direction and advice, but this time I wanted to make it more about accountability.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts I’m 4-5 chapters away from finishing the manuscript for my current novel, but since then, I’m encountering a lot of difficulty pushing through and just getting it done. I feel like I’m at the end of a race, I know the finish line is around here somewhere, but I can’t see it, and I’m exhausted. Because this is my first fully finished manuscript, I have no idea how it feels or looks to be this close in order to get myself motivated just by saying, “You’re almost there; push through and finish it!” I’m thinking I need another technique to pull me over the finish line.

Two weeks ago, we had Jeff Wheeler, the author who taught me about laying tile, come speak to my writing class. Because of what I was feeling, I submitted a question asking how he pushes through writer’s block and low motivation on the days he “lays tile.”

The answer was exactly what I needed.

He cited a story told by Jim Collins called “The Twenty Mile March,” in which two explorers, Roald Admunsen and Robert Falcon Scott, set out in 1911 in a race to be the first people in modern history to reach the South Pole. They were easily matched in physicality and age, and each took a team to set out across Antarctica. But the thing that made the difference in the long run was their method. Admunsen and his team set a pace to march twenty miles a day, no matter what kind of weather it was.

Scott, on the other hand, only marched on the good days. He and his team put in as many miles as they could on the days when the sky was clear. As a result, Admunsen’s team reached the South Pole a month before Scott’s team and, in the bitter end, Scott and his exploration team died on the return journey. 

Wheeler said this story had a profound impact on him and how he works on writing days. He realized it wasn’t enough to just have a consistent writing habit, he needed to have a specific, daily word count and stay at the computer until he reached it. Wheeler noticed as he practiced reaching his word count, his “creative muscle” strengthened, and he became more and more capable of reaching his goal. Additionally, he found the days where he wasn’t motivated to work, his creative muscle memory kicked in and he was able to hit his word count, regardless.

I thought back to NaNoWriMo last year. I had developed that “creative muscle,” and was able to make high word counts every day by the end of the month. I made significant progress with my book, having written an entire ⅓ of it when NaNo ended. I remember the home stretch being excruciating, but I had the practiced endurance to just finish.

And that’s exactly the type of momentum I need to finish now.

So here is what I’m going to do. I’m going to start small: write 500 words minimum per day. If I feel good to keep going I will. If that’s all I got, I’ll stop. I’m going to be accountable for my word count on Instagram and track how I feel through the process. Then, in 2 weeks (because I do my blog posts in advance), I’ll do a follow up post about how the experiment went. I can tell you my findings and hopefully start up a good, sustainable habit that can get me through to the end of this book and beyond.

Do you have any goals that would benefit from a “twenty mile march” type cadence? What can you do to apply this principle in your creative work? Let me know in the comments below.


Collins, Jim. “Great by Choice.” Jim Collins – Articles – How to Manage Through Chaos, Oct. 2011, http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/how-to-manage-through-chaos.html#articletop.

1 thought on “The Twenty Mile March”

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s