Daily Archives: January 2, 2010

On being a slow writer

Peeler Lake!

In the world of food, “slow” might be a good thing: there’s a slow cooker preparing your meals from dawn to dusk and welcoming you home to hot prepared food, slow braising (mrmmm braised short ribs), slow food (no fast food!) and a slow year (my friend is living such a thing–living life as a freegan and deciding not to pay for anything but bare necessities). In this context, slow is a good thing.

Being a slow writer? Not so good–in fact, downright discouraging.  I was once at a writing residency where a Famous Writer would announce her wordcount each evening at the dinner table, around which all the writers would sit (so there was no escaping her announcement). Some nights, she would announce 5,000 words, other nights 3,000 words, never falling below 2,000 words written each day. Argh, I thought. What was a polite way to say, “Please shut up?”

Me? 1,000 words is a good day for me. 2,000 is pretty phenomenal. 500 is normal.

I just can’t get the words down very quickly. And believe me, there are days where I hit the delete key more than I do any other key, and thus have had negative word counts. Midway through writing this novel, I forbid myself from deleting.

I’m such a slow (and sparse) writer that in successive revision drafts, I have to fill in the blanks, beef up my manuscripts. One of my friends, Elizabeth Stark once tweeted that when it comes to revision, “there are filler-inners and taker-outers.” I am definitely a filler-inner when it comes to revision.

Over the years, I’ve accepted my slow pace. I just see it as “Tonka trucking”: I used to struggle while hiking in the mountains at altitude, and a friend took my hand in his and showed me a technique that would get me up the mountain one step at a time. He said to take half steps, or if necessary, quarter steps, each step being maybe only a few inches in length. Takes the strain off the legs and lungs (didn’t know at the time that I had a hole in my heart, causing altitude sickness at lower elevations).

I made it up the mountain every time when backpacking by “Tonka trucking” up the trail, often taking steps no longer than that of a toddler. Maybe it took longer, but I got there. And guess what: it felt no less awesome for having taken longer.


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