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.


Filed under Writing

13 responses to “On being a slow writer

  1. poettraveler

    An excellent essay. It held my attention from start to finish. I like your narrative and varied, interesting, I would say captivating use of wordplay here. I’m going to follow your blog. I admire your ability and style and, from first sight, would be happy to read 80,000 words written by you. I’ll put you on my blogroll and follow your progress (and now I give little bow, as a “thank you” for pleasure derived in reading what you have to say here). 🙂

    John –poettraveler-

  2. “Tonka trucking” is an awesome description. I’m a slow writer, and I must also be a filler-inner. I’ve noticed that the revision of my novel feels more like layering.

  3. Nothing wrong with being a slow writer. Congrats on finishing the first draft of your novel! Love the new blog!

  4. Hi John: thank you for the summary review. 🙂 glad you stopped by and that you’ll be stopping again.

    Stephanie: Tonka trucking is a crucial survival skill. 🙂 I have a feeling I’ll be discovering that “layering” feeling soon.

    Elizabeth: thank you!

    • poettraveler

      Hi Elizabeth: thank YOU 🙂
      Hope you’ll drop by my pages and browse – I’m sure you’ll see a few things there that’ll grab your interest.
      Cheers! – John

  5. heather

    sing it, sister. i’m just beginning to accept this about my own writing habits.

  6. Nate

    When you take your time you see the buds encrusted with snowflakes and the chickadees leaving their little footprints. And you have more to talk about than how long it takes to get to the top 😉

  7. Pingback: This is a really long story about my relationship with my body « 80,000 words

  8. Pingback: Are You a Slow and Steady Writer? | D.L. Perching

  9. Reblogged this on D.L. Perching and commented:
    Love this. Don’t get discouraged by your pace. There are many famous and well read slow writers.

  10. barbaramarincel

    It’s being a good writer that counts! Who cares how many words you write every day? I have a friend who posts on Facebook how many words she writes every day–she is obsessed with her word count, and I swear I long to strangle her. I have such a total inferiority complex I can’t write anymore!

  11. Thank you for this. I’m constantly pressured to ‘write faster’ but that just puts a choke hold on me. I can produce the mythical 5K-10K volumes in words if I don’t pay any attention at all to what I’m writing and don’t fret about rewriting completely. It’s helped tremendously, but apparently not enough. I can produce 4K-6K clean words on a good day, but most days I’m lucky to hit 1,000. I okay with being a slow writer, but some days it’s down right annoying. I guess I’m having one of those days 😦

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