Recently, a student confessed to me that she has been writing her homework papers, from start to finish, the day before they were due. This did not surprise me; this particular student has been turning in substandard work all year, which is reflected in her grades. Good writing takes time, and she has not put in the time.
Most of my students turn in outstanding work, including the students with learning difficulties. The secret is the nine daily to-do lists that accompany each assignment, which clearly define the work for each day of the writing period. When work is completed according to the schedule, there is no last minute panic, no poorly written paper.
I was thrilled recently to hear a quote by Anthony Trollope, one of my favorite British authors, who wrote during the Victorian era. He was a prolific author, producing 47 novels, plus biographies, travel guides, sketches, and short stories. This would be remarkable for a full-time writer, but, amazingly, writing was not Trollope’s day job. Working full time for the General Post Office of Britain, he also traveled widely and hunted twice a week. And he was married.
How did he manage to produce such a volume of high quality literature? He tells his secret in his autobiography:
A small daily task, If it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules…
I have known authors whose lives have always been troublesome and painful because their tasks have never been done in time. They have ever been as boys struggling to learn their lessons as they entered the school gates. Publishers have distrusted them, and they have failed to write their best because they have seldom written at ease. I have done double their work–though burdened with another profession,–and have done it almost without an effort. I have not once, through all my literary career, felt myself even in danger of being late with my task. I have known no anxiety as to “copy.” The needed pages far ahead–very far ahead–have almost always been in the drawer beside me.
And that little diary, with its dates and ruled spaces, its record that must be seen, its daily, weekly demand upon my industry, has done all that for me.
There are those who would be ashamed to subject themselves to such a taskmaster, and who think that the man who works with his imagination should allow himself to wait till–inspiration moves him…
I was once told that the surest aid to the writing of a book was a piece of cobbler’s wax on my chair. I certainly believe in the cobbler’s wax much more than the inspiration.
The secret to my students’ success is simple: small, daily writing tasks, carried out “really daily.” As Trollope was fond of quoting, labor omnia vincit: Work conquers all.