AUTHORS: Four Reasons We Sometimes Write (Too) Slowly

escargot-2-1382762-mWe authors love to write: and sometimes we write slowly. Sometimes that’s intentional, part of our personal process. Other times, it’s indicative of obstacles getting the best of us.

In exciting news, I have begun to balance preparing the Herezoth Trilogy’s second edition for an Autumn release–I hope to have a date soon, so stay posted!–with starting a first draft of a companion piece that tells the story of Zalski’s coup of Herezoth from the point of view of one of his supporters, a servant girl in the Palace named Verony.

This has gotten me frustrated at how SLOW the process is going. I mean, WRITING. Actually WRITING again after doing nothing but editing for so ridiculously long. Looking back, I haven’t written a first draft of something fiction-y since NaNoWriMo 2012. 2012!!!

Naturally, I’ve been examining why things are going slowly, and trying to determine whether that’s a problem or it’s just how I create. All three books in my Herezoth trilogy had long pauses and slow progress. But I ended up happy with the results. I plowed through my NaNoWriMo novel in 2o12 and am convinced it is so dreadful I can never make anything of it. (At least it’s proven good fodder and given me some characters for my new first draft.)

ANYWAY, for good or bad (or for… neutrality? neither?) here are some of the reasons writing is going slowly for me, and might be going slowly for you too.

  • The transition from editing to writing again. This switch is always a transition. I’m going from working three novels that were more or less cohesive already to the grand mess that is a first draft. The difference in quality is obvious, and I can’t help but mark it. It makes me want to fix it. Which leads to….
  • Perfectionism. Because perfectionism is always a paralyzer. A sedative. It stops you in your tracks.
  • Overthinking. Which is different than perfectionism. If nothing else, it’s a different “shade” of what we call “perfectionism.” For me, it’s the difference between being afraid of making any mistake and being afraid of making a monster error. There is a big difference between (1) wanting things to be perfect and (2) just wanting to make sure you aren’t screwing up a major, huge, early choice your protagonist has to make: a choice that, if you get wrong, you’ll have to rewrite everything. That’s not fun. And I don’t want to go to there. So I end up going nowhere.
  • Not a lot of prepwork. Some writers like to wing it. That’s why I didn’t say, “not ENOUGH prepwork.” Is it possible, when we are writing slowly, that we could benefit from more detailed, organized prewriting? Perhaps. It all depends on the individual writer, how their process works, and whether writing slowly is a frustrating thing for them or not. Again, the fastest first draft I ever wrote is one I could find no real potential in at all. Writing “fast” does not equal “good writing” in every case, for every person.

So, what do you think of this? Are you a slow writer or a fast writer? Does writing slowly frustrate you, or do you accept it as part of how you, personally, go about the creative process? Have you found that prewriting makes writing more enjoyable for you? If so, does the fact that prewriting makes writing go FASTER its major draw?

Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” and has new editions coming out this Fall. She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”

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37 responses to “AUTHORS: Four Reasons We Sometimes Write (Too) Slowly

  1. Sløw.
    May be we can add ‘writer’s block’ as well!

  2. I’m a pretty slow writer. I think it has a lot to do with my lack of time, mixed with a pinch of overthinking but mostly because this is my first draft of my first book I’ve ever written I’m up to a critical part in the story. I’m too scared of stuffing it up (I’ve already written the middle twice) and I know this is where the action happens. I’m just making the best progress I can without trying to be to overly critical of myself if l or I’d never write another word! I understand the frustration though watching everyone else release book after book…

    • I’ve learned I can’t compare myself with other people. I have far too great a tendency to do that, and no good ever comes from it. We are all different. We all have different lives, different motivations, different obstacles, and different callings. Even if we are writing. It IS frustrating to see people publishing book after book when I feel like I am slow to write. But I strive to let that go when I notice I get to that place. It’s not easy!

  3. I have two speeds when it comes to writing. When I’m creating ‘quick payment’ novellas for cash, I tend to complete them quickly, usually within a couple of days (for a 15k). However my novels have a much slower pace, something I’m quite happy with. I create a minimal storyline with a firm ending and just enjoy watching how it all unfolds. The slow pace allows for new ideas to blossom as I write. I liken a good story (as if I’m any good as a judge on this matter!) to a good curry – the longer it marinates, the tastier it turns out. Five-minute curries rarely satisfy.

  4. I tend to write 2-3 chapters a week when I’m writing a new book. Though, people a ‘plotter’ helps works some kinks out early and I stopped aiming for perfection before editing long ago. Then again, I’m doing the full-time author thing so I guess I simply have more opportunities to do my writing. That’s probably the biggest factor for any author.

  5. I’m doing CampNaNo this year, and it’s the first time I’ve written a big project straight onto a Word doc. since last year, and, like you, it’s going slowly. I can already feel that pacing is going to be a nightmare in this to edit.
    Overthinking is my big one. Yesterday, I only managed to write a thousand words instead of my goal of two thousand because I realised that the plot was going off-course to how I’d planned it. So I effectively shut down without realising, creativity zapped as I tried to think whether I wanted to write the next bit as it should be or how it was turning out to be. Whilst prepwork is great, I find I work better if the story unfolds without me dictating every chapter (as I did this year).

    • It really is amazing to think how outlines and prewriting truly free some writers and constrain others! It is all a matter, I think, of figuring out what degree of planning helps each of us individually. Best of luck during Camp NaNoWriMo! I can’t say what you should do, of course, but I can tell you that I don’t think I’ve ever gone wrong when my characters have told me what I wanted them to do wasn’t right for them.

  6. I’m sorry to say, I’m writing very slowly these days. I feel like I’m starting to speed up again, but not as quickly as I’d like.

  7. Have you ever mudded a joint in drywall? Put two pieces together and tried to make them look seamlessly as one? I’ve finished a few basements, and I’m horrible at it. I slap on the mud and tap, then it shrinks overnight, and I realize I need to do more, then more, then more . . . then I discover I’ve made a rather large hump for the joint, so I need to sand it down, and sand it . . . until, oops–now I’ve gone too far and need the mud again . . .
    That’s how I write: I need to get all the layers in, for all the characters, and add more, embellish a bit, then realize I need to cut, then add . . . anyway, you get the point. I don’t know how to change that plodding process, but I also think I wouldn’t be able to write in any other way. I eventually get to the point where I think, “Daggum–that’s as good as it’s going to get,” and send it off to my beta readers.
    And the worst part? I have the nerve to “teach writing” to college freshmen!

    • What an AWESOME analogy. I think it fits my writing process too…. I have too much, so I cut away a bit too much, so I need to add to more, but it’s not quite right and so….

      Yep. FOR SURE!

  8. I think I write a little slow because I am always over thinking things.

  9. I’m working on a novella right now and it is going really well. Like, too well. This of course is making me nervous. I start to think, “It’s too easy- probably a dumb story.” Why do we think the slower the process the better the story?
    Maybe my story doesn’t suck :)

    • You are right: sometimes things just click and go well. That doesn’t mean the story is poor or the writing is bad. Not at all. We all work differently and some people ARE able to write well quickly. Some people if they TRIED to slow down would begin to overthink things that they don’t overthink when they do what comes naturally to them :-)

    • Best thing to do is finish the story. Have FUN with it. I do remember one story I had a lot of fun writing, but then I didn’t end up keeping it because I kept dwelling on one point rather than look at the over all story. All I had to do was edit but I was just too darn lazy. DON’T make my mistake! Have fun writing it, then, when you’re finished, put it away fro a month or so and then come back to it when you’re working on something else, and you can see the story with fresh eyes.

  10. Apenteng Baidoo

    For me, writing slowly comes from getting many more ideas in my head than I can put down. I type a slightly faster than a blind dog (seriously!) so by the time I reach a portion of a piece of writing that I had composed in my head moments ago I find that I can’t recall what I wanted to write as well. Annoyingly, the things I have in my head always seem so perfect when I forget them. Anyway I try to deal with this by first writing on paper to build enough ideas momentum to transfer to a computer but even then I still can’t seem to get everything the way I planned for in my head. Sometimes I prefer editing to writing but the creative process amazes me which is a part of my reason to learn to write creatively. What do you think?

    • I have sometimes written on paper first, and I liked the experience. It has a different feel. Personally, if you are not able to type quickly enough to keep your ideas together I would say any benefits to typing first are outweighed by the key advantage of writing with pen and paper and then transferring that to electronic form later. That’s what I would do :-) Maybe you might even want to outline things as the ideas come to you, or write down scraps of things you don’t want to forget. I do tend to prefer writing to editing, just because I love the thrill of discovering my story as it develops,

    • BOY, do I know that feeling. Thankfully, my typing is a bit better than that of a blind dog, (but my cat does better ;) ) But seriously, I’ve had to get into the habit of carrying a little notebook around with me, even at work, because the best ideas come to me when I’m not expecting them. And that’s part of the issue behind writer’s block; trying TOO hard to come up with ideas instead of letting the ideas come to you.

      I can also VERY MUCH relate to perfect ideas that come and go in a blink. I recall one incident when I was dozing off, and I had this FANTASTIC idea for a story but I was too tired to write it down. Then, come morning, Zap! GONE.

      And then, there’s LIFE. Forever getting in the way of our best laid plans. I had it in my mind to just spend the day in the park, last weekend, writing and relaxing, but of course, my mother wanted me to run an errand. And by the time that was over, I was so ticked that my plans were scuttled that I couldn’t focus for the rest of the day.

      For me, I much love writing to editing, but I still find myself changing stuff in mid-project and that HAS to stop. ONE DAY…. God willing, this month, I will finish editing on a project that has some hope of actually being published! It’s a movie retrospective and I finished it like… 8 years ago. SMASHWORDS may just give me the venue that didn’t exist a mere 8 years ago. Here’s to hoping. Now, all I have to do is FIND the FREE time to get that editing done.

  11. I’m a plot-pantser (barebones prep, but never none), and also starting to come out of nonstop editing mode.

    I’ve got some short stories I’ve written about the same characters, and I wrote 10k+ on a sentence or two of “the plan”, and it was easy to write and write quickly.

    Meanwhile, I’ve got a 30k novella that I’m doing a total redraft of (that’s my process, throw out the first draft as a full-length pre-write), and it’s like pulling teeth to get through a single scene.

    I know it’s because the material in both is very different in many ways, but it still messes with me that I can toss up a well-built short in a couple of weeks, and I can barely write a scene in a week with the other.

    • I’ve noticed a disparity like that in my own writing from project to project. It’s super strange and a bit disconcerting! At least it seems to be normal, though :-)

      • My novella is a tougher project, as I’m dealing with a very complex characterization while he goes through a very drastic change in his life. It’s the toughest character I’ve ever written when it comes to getting him right.

        • Well, it definitely sound like a fascinating project and a really fun challenge. Best of luck with it!

        • Thanks. The hardest part is establishing the depth of his character correctly so that as it shifts due to the change in his situation a lot of the impact of it is implied. The story won’t work if I browbeat how he’s changing.

  12. I’m a fast writer!

    Ack! My nose just grew!

    Ok…I’m slower than a turtle in molasses. I over think things way to much and I may be a bit of a perfectionist. As for prep work, I do waaay to much of that (remember I over think) but I don’t think it makes me any faster. It just gives me a general idea of where I want to go (which may end up changing along the way).

    Btw, I nominated you for Most Inspiring Blogger. :)

    • aw, thanks Desiree!!! You’re not the only one who writes slowly, for sure :-) And I’ve noticed that about prepwork with myself the one time I’ve really tried to prep before writing. In my case, I DID write fast for NaNoWriMo but I prepped way too much and changed a lot along the way.

  13. Get every thing right. Also I find if I take my time new ideas come to me, which makes the story better than I could ever imagine. Where if I had rushed and not allowed my mind to run with the idea, I would have missed out so much. We live in an instant world where everything has to be here and now. In the past writers could take their time forming their work. I’m with the slow movement enjoying taking my time to allow my ideas space to grow. :-)

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