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The Ballad Of A Slow Writer

Every once and a while there are always stories of writers finishing their book in a handful of months, weeks, or even days. Because the internet is the internet, these stories spread around like memefire, often making it seem like if you’re writing a book you better be doing it as quickly as possible.

I think we all want to be the fast writer who writes a perfect manuscript in a matter of three days on little to no sleep, munching on nondescript holiday candy while listening to Say a Prayer for Me by RÜFÜS DU SOL on repeat. Then, in a perfect world, we query, get a response next day from a great agent who says, “Ahh yes, this manuscript is perfect, you can barely tell that it was written over the course of 72 hours!” (If this has happened to you, please tell me your secrets immediately, I’ll keep them to myself.)

Unfortunately, most of us aren’t going to write the perfect manuscript the first time. I KNOW, I’M SORRY, I WISH WE COULD DO IT, TOO. In fact, I would call myself a notoriously slow writer. I don’t have an agent—don’t you dare click away—and I’m still in the drafting stage of my latest work in progress. The last book I wrote took four years to complete a first draft. Before that, I wrote a first draft over two years. Do I wish I had written those books faster? Yeah, I guess so. Would I want either of those books to be my debut into the authorial world? I’m going have to say a strong, professional nahhhhh.

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nahhh

Anyone who is a slow writer is for various reasons. Because I know myself the best, I can tell you that it has taken me forever to draft because (1) I’m a perfectionist; (2) I was in school for four years, then two more; (3) I was learning as I wrote and every scene was stronger than the last; (4) There’s some good stuff on Netflix, I dunno, bite me. Like have you seen INTO THE BADLANDS?; (5) Time is an enigma.

Most people know the story of the tortoise and the hare—the hare left the band early and instantly started on a solo album, but the tortoise waited until the band dispersed on its own. The hare released his album only one year later, on the same day he left the band (because he had to be cheeky like that.) The album was okay, a lot of the songs sounded the same, that’s coming from someone who listens to a lot of pop and electronic music, but we can get into this at another time, Susan. Meanwhile, the tortoise bopped about, did a movie and whatever, and two years later he announced his solo tour and new album. The song the tortoise released isn’t necessarily better than what the hare put out. In the grand scheme it doesn’t matter how long it took the tortoise in comparison to the hare. The point is that they’re at the same place now. Going in the same direction if you will.*

harry_and_zayn_on_motorbike_-_kiss_you_music_video
lmao this is so good

Joking aside, here are my words for other slow writers who might be worried they’re going a smidge too slow: You are still writing. You are still putting your characters and their stories and their worlds down on the page. You are still creating and breathing and feeling and learning. You are still a writer, no matter how many other writers may pass you in word count, or agent deals, or book announcements, or twitter followers. No one can take your stories away from you—unless you don’t type your manuscript and you have a sister like Amy in LITTLE WOMEN and she burns it.

Also, while I still would consider myself a slow writer, I’ve gotten faster and you probably will, too. In the past eight months I’ve written 77,000 words of a new work in progress. Considering it took me four years to write that same amount, I’d consider this a vast improvement. Truthfully though, I wouldn’t be writing this quickly had I not taken my time on those other manuscripts. If I hadn’t worked meticulously and learned how to structure a book, how to weave my characters’ motivations through each chapter, and how to, ya know, make a plot, then I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Sometimes just working on your book is a struggle in of itself, don’t put more needless pressure on yourself to then write at the speed of light. I do believe there is a difference though between casually writing a story and having the drive to finish one. Even if you’re a slow writer, you have to put the work in. You can make goals to reach one at a time, whether it be by scene, by chapter, or by word count—I personally do the latter and set word count goals: 25k; 50k; 75k; 100k, etc.

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can you tell where I worked on my master’s thesis? those months don’t count. via My Write Club

To reiterate, even if you write slowly, you are still writing and that’s amazing. We all work at our own paces, so what works best for you isn’t going to work for someone else. You have to know how you work and the things that are going to boost your creativity. Do you need a brief nap after work? Do you need to listen to some awesome tunes? Do you need to write a sentence per day? Writing slowly doesn’t mean your book will never get done, not if you have anything to say about it!

Take for example, the lovely Sabaa Tahir worked on AN EMBER IN THE ASHES for six years and it’s one of the best YA books out there today.** She wrote a Twitter thread at in December 2016 that has some advice I want to leave all my fellow slow writers with:

C’mon fellow writers, there’s plenty of 2017 left! Let’s make it happen.

~

*Yes, this analogy is about Harry Styles and Zayn. Yes, I probably found it funnier than you.

**This is the latest installment of “Meg tries to befriend Sabaa Tahir via the Internet.”

P.S. Your bonus for staying until the end:

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