Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Loading 16 Tons

by Deren Hansen

Now that the excitement of NaNoRiMo has subsided, I thought you could use another shot of encouragement.

I'm sure most of you have heard the old mining lament about loading sixteen tons ("and whadda ya get? Another day older, and deeper in debt. St. Peter don't ya call me cause I can't go, I owe my soul to the company store.").

I have a thing for numbers, so I had to figure it out:

WikiMedia: A mule pules a load of coal.
One ton is 2,000 pounds, so sixteen tons is 32,000 pounds.

That sounds like a lot.

If you have an eight-hour workday, you'd have to load 4,000 pounds (2 tons) an hour.

That still sounds overwhelming.

But if you could load 100 pounds in a minute, it would only take 40 minutes to load 4,000 pounds. I'll leave it up to you to decide how to split your 100 pound load over the course of a minute (I like the idea of two 50 pound lifts), but I want to point out that at this pace, you'd have a 20 minute break every hour.

There's no question it would take strength and stamina to keep loading all day. Still, after we break it down, the job moves from overwhelming to doable.

Writing a novel is a lot like loading sixteen tons: in general, you've got to produce somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 words. That sounds like a lot. But if you break it down to 1,000 words a day (and keep up the pace) and you'll finish your novel in two or three months.

My point isn't that you should write everyday, it's that you'll be surprised at what you can accomplish if you move your project forward by a doable, sustainable amount each day.

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.
Image: luigi diamanti /


Paul West said...

50 pounds of coal every 30 seconds is still overwhelming.

However, I think you have your facts wrong. During the period that song depicts, miners worked 9 to 10-hour shifts, so they had a bit longer to do the 16 tons.

Deren Hansen said...

Perhaps a 33 pound lift every 20 seconds?


Then, maybe, a 20 pound lift every 10 seconds, with a 10 second break every minute?

I'm not saying mining wasn't hard work, but that it was doable if you approached it in terms of manageable increments.

You're right, of course, about longer working hours. I used 8 hours simply for ease of calculation (i.e, 32,000/8 = 4,000, a nice round number).

And it was good of you not to mention the terrible, often deadly, working conditions.

Long-form writing is like coal-mining only in the sense that both involve dauntingly large numbers (e.g., 16 tons, 80,000 words) and most people have a hard time dealing with large numbers.

Paul West said...

I got your comparison. I just had to be the devil's advocate, so to speak (or write).

I only know all this because my great grandfather worked in a coal mine in Wyoming and I'm using that research as part of an upcoming novel I've started writing.