Friday, October 22, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Writing Slow

Hey guys, I'm hanging out in the VIP treehouse, which just got some sweet hand-me-down curtains from some dude driving by in a VW van. They're orange and brown. You know I can't pass up orange and brown. I'd invite you up for some lime Kool-Aid, but, well, it's VIP only. Hey, I don't make the rules...oh wait. Nevermind.

Anyway, my friend Adam Heine is heading up this meeting today. If you haven't met him, there are a few things you need to know. 1) He writes about air pirates. Air pirates who have a fantastic vocabularly. 2) He lives in Thailand, where he and his incredible wife foster children. They currently have NINE. 3) If it wasn't obvious from the first two, Adam is freaking awesome.

Okay, take it away, Adam!

J. K. Rowling took five years to write the first Harry Potter.

It's okay to write slow.

Those of us who take a year or more to draft a novel are tempted to
believe we're doing something wrong. Like we're too lazy, managing our
time wrong, editing our words too much, or (God forbid) not meant to
be writers at all. Some of those things might be true, but slow
writing doesn't prove it.

(Terry Pratchett wrote his first novel at 400 words a day.)

You might be climbing a learning curve. My first novel took me
5 years to draft and 2 to edit. My second took me two years total. I'm
still slow, but I'm getting better. You will too. That's what practice

(The Harry Potter series took an average of 2 years per book to write.)

You might be a planner. Natalie herself will tell you that fast
drafts don't mean finished products
. They need a lot of editing
after they're "done." Not that slow drafts are perfect, but sometimes
slow can mean cleaner.

(George R. R. Martin has been working for 5 years on his next Ice and
Fire novel. He's still not finished, but I'll buy it when he is.)

You might be unpublished. There are really only two reasons you
have to write fast: (1) you signed a contract with a deadline
or (2) you write to put food on the table. The rest of us have the
freedom to write at whatever pace we want, learning as we go.

(Susanna Clarke took 10 years to finish her debut novel, which won
some awards
and got
optioned for a lot of money

You might have a life. Maybe you have a full-time job, a
family, and an X-Box. Kids are a full-time job on their own (I know, I
have nine) and worth more than a publishing contract. Not that you
shouldn't go for the contract too, but if you're sacrificing writing
speed to play Guitar Hero with your daughter, I call that a win.

There are reasons writing can take a long time, many of them good.

Live life. Write slow.


  1. Well said. And thanks! Sometimes I think I might be the slowest writer in the world. Glad to know that it is okay. :)

  2. Thank you - I needed this. I haven't finished my first novel yet and it's been a over a year. I do sometimes feel like maybe I'm not meant to be writer because it is taking me so long. But little by little it is getting done and I think it will be a cleaner draft because I've been slow. Not that it won't need a rewrite or two or more. Good to know other people are slow too.

  3. Gosh, I'm soooo glad I'm not the only one that writes slowly!

  4. This is great... makes me realize it's okay to slow down and really give my ms the attention it deserves.

  5. "Live life. Write slow."

    Love that. Thanks for the great reminder that we all go at our own pace, and slow or fast, none of them are wrong. :)

  6. Fantastic! As a ridiculously slow writer and editor myself, it's nice to know that there's others like me hanging around the clubhouse. Novel out on submission has been in the process for nine years, give or take an eon.

    Thanks for the happy, Adam!

  7. It's great to have these reminders every now and then. I am a slow writer mainly due to other life responsibilities, and sometimes it is frustrating when I see how slow my progress is. But I know I am not alone, and as long as I keep plugging away, eventually I will meet my goals!

  8. Adam, So nice to meet you. This is just what I needed to hear today. I feeling a lot of pressure right now to hurry, but I'm working on my novel slowly. I have 4 kids, and I take plenty of time away from writing to do things with them. My learning curve is still moving up.

    I never realized how long it took Rowling to finish the first HP. We always hear the story but never how long it took. Very interesting.

  9. Thank you, Natalie, for letting me head the meeting today. And thanks all you guys for your kind comments. Even though I believe every word I wrote, it's still no end of encouraging to hear I'm not the only one who's slow :-)

  10. Thank you for that post! It's reassuring to know others are out there writing slow like me! Sometimes I get discouraged because I'll notice someone said they cranked their novel out in 3 months and edited in 2. I'm almost at 2 years working on mine (but I've got a kid, job, house, husband, we bought our first house in the middle and I stopped writing for several months...etc). But as long as we keep writing, it doesn't matter how long it takes.

  11. Slow is good? Yay! That means I've been doing something right.

  12. Thanks for that Adam, knowing that slow is ok.

    I'm not sure slow is any better than fast or vice versa, I imagine it's simply what works for each individual as writing is such a personal thing. It's good for those of us with busy lives, to know that we can still do it though, no matter how long it will take us. Thank you!

  13. Great post. Everybody creates at their own pace. And I can't agree with you more. Never sacrifice real life, especially with those you love, to spend time in your fictional one. It's often the real life experiences that make the fictional ones richer.

  14. Great advice! Thanks for sharing it. You said some things I needed to hear. I'm definitely going to share it.

  15. I just LOVE the writers group Fridays!

    I have now written three novels, but I am right now working on revising my first one for about the 19th time. And even the revision is slow going. But I'm fine with that. I'd love to be done fast, but fast doesn't get it done properly.

    Thanks for the guest post, and the added bit of inspiration!

  16. To writing slow? A-men, sister!

    To nine children? You go, girl!

  17. Great advice, Adam. And I am super impressed with your life of helping children in Thailand.

  18. Thanks much for that post. Yes, I have a life. And in my case writing slow is also about the fact that I'm writing several books at once. When I get stuck on one, I move on to the next. Hopefully this means that at some point I'll get a bunch of books done all at once.

    Meanwhile I continue to publish articles and such, so at least I'm getting a few things finished!

    The CRITTER Project and Naked Without a Pen

  19. What a nice concept.

    I'm not at all a slow writer. In fact, everythign I do is go as fast as you can til you can't go anymore. That's just me and it works for me.

    I know for a fac thtat write every day (or anythign every day) doesn't work for me. So I don't think anyone should look for one size fits all solutions.

    If slow is your cup of tea, drink it.

  20. I feel so much better after reading this!

  21. Great advice! Cannot tell you what a weight that's lifted off my shoulders. I've had so much internal pressure to be business owner, writer, mother, wife, friend, pet mommy, cook, cleaner, chauffeur, nurse, confidante, role model (I'm probably forgetting some) that most days it feels like I fall far short. While I know I can't be all things to all people all the time, it doesn't seem to stop me from trying and then feeling like a failure if I don't succeed. The fact that I have a finished novel (my first) at all as well as a number of publishing credits, amidst all the chaos of my life is akin to a miracle.

    Thanks for helping me gain some much needed perspective!

  22. You can't tell how long it took a write rto write a book by looking at how much time passes between the time they start writing, and the time they finish. You simply can't tell whether a writer is fast or slow this way. To tell how fast someone writers, you have to know how much time they spend sitting on their rear ends and actually writing.

    I know a rather famous literary writer who is also famous for taking five year sto write each of his short novels. Except that isn't what happens. What really happens is the he procrastinates for four and a half years, and then writes teh novel in six months.

    A slow write is not someone who procrastinates, or who only plants his rear end in a chair to write three hours every other week. That's a lazy writer, not a slow writer.

    Almost all teh "slow writer" thought is pure BS, and excuse not to plant your rear end and actually write. This makes it easy to do nothing, but still call yourself a "writer".