Confessions of a Slow Writer

There are a lot of new books out this year aimed at helping writers learn to write fast. “Increase your word count to 2000, 5000, or even 10k words a day!” they proclaim in bright colored words across the cover. It’s the ideal, or so you would think from all the writing podcasts.

But what about the slow writers? It isn’t as though we CHOOSE to be slow. Some of us have day jobs, or children, or family obligations. Some of us can only write when our child takes a nap. Or in between classes at the local college. Or on breaks at work.

What we should keep in mind is that no one starts out writing at blazing fast speeds. We all had a first book, and 99.9% of those first books are horrible books that get shelved, or thrown away never to see the light of day again. A good majority of those books were written over the course of months, if not years. My first book, for instance, took five years to complete. I started writing it when I was 16. A few weeks after completing it I lost the file on my computer. It was just gone and there was nothing I could do about it. I did have half of the book printed out for later editing, but I was so depressed about the lost files after five years of writing that I haven’t ever looked at it again.

Parts of that first novel have spun off several other works. Several of the themes keep reappearing in my work, because they were my life. I’ve also added to the themes and characters as I got older, giving them more notes to expand upon.

After I complete each thing, be it novel or short story, I get a little faster at completing things. I’ve done NaNoWriMo six times now, and ‘won’ most of the time. The things that came out were often bad, but salvageable. They could be rewritten, edited, expanded upon.

One year for NaNoWriMo I wrote nothing but short stories. 50,000 words of short stories is a lot of short stories. I believe I completed five for that month. All of them are now published in my Small Bites collection, along with several others started during that time.

For the entire year of 2014, and NaNoWriMo of 2013, I worked on a project called “Mermaid’s Curse”. It has since been renamed to the “Witch’s Trilogy” and will start being published this year. I’m still working on books 2 and 3.

So the confession of this slow writer? I might be slow, but I’m still making progress. I’m still accomplishing my goal of putting out books, and completing my stories.

There are so many people around the self publishing community that are saying “write fast, the faster you write the better it is for you,” and they aren’t wrong. But some of us can’t write that fast… yet.

The more you practice, the better you’ll get at just letting yourself write and not getting in your own way.
The more you write the more comfortable you’ll be with the process.
The more stories you tell the better your stories will be the first time you write them.

It’s a process. It takes time. DON’T GIVE UP just because you’re a slow writer. Give yourself time to finish what you started, even if it takes months, or even years. You’ll get there.

What is slow?

I just read this article about slow writers, and their place in the current Amazon world. They make some valid points about certain authors who advocate for writing fast and not editing. I also advocate just getting that first draft out and on the page, and then turning it over and writing something else. That is because a person who writes often, and a lot, has more practice then someone who does not.

But I digress, the question today is “what is slow?”

I know the guys over at Self Publishing Podcast can crank out the wordage. They managed to publish quite a few books last year. I think they are slowing down this year to focus a little more on their brand and put a little more time into their writing, but even then they still crank out more words in a month then I do in three.

Dean Wesley Smith writes TONS of words every single day. He also advocates Heinlein’s Rules about writing fast and not editing (unless your editor tells you to.) He has some great reasons to do so. He also has good examples of published writers who do write incredibly fast. Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and every other author on this list. From authors that wrote a short story every week (because no one can write 52 bad short stories) to those who wrote several novels a year.

Then there are others who wrote one single book and earned great acclaim. Withering Heights by Emily Bronte. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Gone with the Wind by Margret Michelle. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. All books that have made their way into the national culture, film, cartoons, spin offs, etc.

A huge difference between Ralph Ellison and Stephen King… One makes a living as an author. The other made his living in other things and also wrote a fantastic book that has inspired generations. Not to say that Stephen King hasn’t written some wonderful things, some of which might inspire others along their path. Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick and Isaac Asimov were all extremely prolific authors who made their living writing. Their works are now considered classics that will inspire and influence our culture for a very long time.

To me I suppose when I say I am slow it is because I am unsatisfied with how quickly I am writing. I know I can do more, spend more time at it, and get the ideas out of my head and on to the paper.

I think if you want to make a living at being a writer then you have to write enough to sustain that career. Every author who has come forward to say they are currently making a comfortable living off of their writing has said the same thing: they write almost every day, and they write a lot. You can not sustain a house, cell phone, car, water, and electricity off of one book in a lifetime… not unless that was a REALLY good book. And striking that really good book isn’t likely. It happens to one author every couple of years. Do you know how many authors there are out there right now?

There is something to be said for writers who are still learning their craft, honing their skills, and fine tuning their instruments. A pianist doesn’t go out to play in front of a crowd until he’s had years of practice. And those of us who started writing as children have an advantage. We had those years of honing our skills while others were out playing kick ball and hop scotch. You, the beginning writer, need to take that time to hone those skills and become more comfortable with your words. Take that time, get it right, and then decide what you want to do with those words. What level are you comfortable at.

There is also room for the part time author. The author who has a “day job” while they write. (That’s what I’m doing.) I am still an author. That is how I think of myself, and how I introduce myself, because that is what I am even if I don’t make my entire living off of it.

How slow is slow? That depends on your goals. For me I feel slow because I know I can do more, and I feel that I need to because I want more then anything to be writing full time. To get out of the rat race once and for all. I need to write faster, which for me just means less time gaming and more time on scrivener.

But you have to make your own decision. You have to find what your comfortable with, and decide if that fits the life style you eventually want. It might mean you are perfectly happy with exactly where you are. It might mean putting in extra hours every week to learn that skill, to get better on your instrument so that you can finally play for the crowd.

(Also listen to this great podcast with Neil Gaiman who comments on the subject of writing every day, finishing, and breaking through the wall.)