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Are you a slow writer or a fast writer?

I’m continually amazed by stories like Tawna Fenske’s who “In the last eight years [has] written nine full manuscripts and six partials.” Whoa! In the last eight years I have written exactly ONE memoir and revised the hell out of it and still haven’t finished it. Sure, I earned an MFA, got married, and had two kids during that time, too, but I’m sure writing wasn’t the only thing Tawna was doing for the past decade either. Truth is, I am a SLOW writer. I’m capable of cranking out a couple of pages in one day if I know what it is I need to write, but I spend weeks, even months, thinking about what it is I need to write (the curse of the perfectionist?). Now, for example, I’m at a crossroads where it makes sense for me, while taking a little breaky break from my WIP, to start another manuscript. Perfect sense! I’ve given that advice myself to many people struggling to get a completed work published. “Don’t stop writing! Start another book! Maybe your second will be the one that gets published first!” But it’s easier said than done.

For myself, I have a very vague idea of what my next book will be. First I thought it was going to be nonfiction. Then I realized that I never read nonfiction and get really bored reading nonfiction and that all I really care to read are literary novels. So then it occurred to me that maybe I need to take my nonfiction research and turn it into a novel. I like that idea! But I am SO SO far from beginning a draft. I haven’t even begun to research it let alone come up with an outline or a plot. Oy. I get anxious just thinking about the process. And I envision myself (maybe this will be a self-fulfilling prophecy) taking years to really figure out a) What it is I want to say b) How I’m going to say it (plot), and c) What style I want to say it in. Maybe if it were my full-time job I could whip off a draft in a year, but with two kids, freelance editing, blogging, and finishing up what I hope will be the last revision of my memoir, I see it taking more like 5. And in five years, Tawna Fenske, and all fast writers like her, will have whipped off another six books, two or three of which will perhaps get published.

What about you? Are you a lightning speed writer like Tawna Fenske or a pokey poke writer like me? Do you wish you could write faster than you do, or are you happy with your pace?

16 comments to Are you a slow writer or a fast writer?

  • I am not a fast writer. (I wish I were.) But I am not a slow writer either. I write at a respectable pace, I think, and I believe I could realistically produce 1 book a year (were anyone so inclined to give me such a contract… anyone? anyone?).

    I have spent a lot of time in the past pushing myself to be faster, and I don't regret it (because I learned various things from those efforts) but I am glad that I've recognized my own pace is just fine too. We can only be who we are, you know?

    Maybe Writer X will write 15 books in 10 years, but maybe you'll write 1 book that sells 100x better. {shrug} Who's to say. Just do what you do, the best you can do it, and trust that things will work out. 🙂

  • I'm neither slow nor fast – I'm highly uneven. Like you, though, I have a long gestation period for my work (well, at least the serious stuff) when I'm thinking and researching and plotting, before I start the actual writing itself. But it's all in the service of the final product!

  • Kristan – I could so NOT produce a book a year! I can produce the first draft of a book a year, but then I need to revise revise revise and that takes me another coupla years. I'd have a difficult time writing a book from scratch on a two-year deadline, but I guess I could do it if the kids were in school full time and I treated it like a full-time job. (This is the disaadvantage of selling a book on proposal!)

    Lt. Cccyxx – I like to believe that it's in service of the final product!

  • I am a slow-as-molasses writer. I've begun to realize that this is my process. I have a friend who's finished 2 revisions of his 300 page manuscript in the time it's taken me to revise ONE chapter.

  • I'm a pokey writer. I really wish I could write faster, but I edit a lot as I go, so my rough drafts aren't really too rough. 🙂

  • Once I have the basic outline in hand — which takes FOREVER — I am very fast. For me it's not so much the writing, but figuring out the plot and characters. Also, I plunge in and on when I write without worrying about funky phrasing or dopey dialogue — knowing that I'll be fixing the awkwardness later when I edit. I had several 3,000-word days when I was writing my novel, but that's because I had spent MONTHS writing the outline.

  • I'm pretty fast. Once I know where I want to go, I write like the wind. Mostly because I'm always up against some deadline and I know I gotta get stuff done, NOW (deadlines like, my kiddo's going to be up from a nap or I've got to pick someone up from school, etc.) But it's taken a long time to get to this point. I've sort of picked up the pace as I've gotten older. Whether this translates into better writing, well, that remains to be seen. 🙂

  • Meghan,

    I fly through the first draft with no concern at all for any "writing" rules. Then the slowness kicks in as I have to go through and fix all the problems my quickness created.

    I love the first draft!

    Christi Corbett

  • Hey, thanks for the mention! Admittedly I'm a pretty fast writer (it typically takes me 3.5 months to write a book, and yeah…that's while holding down a full-time day job) but I always like to remind people that there's no "right" or "wrong" way to write. One of my critique partners is a super fast writer, and the other has been working on the same book for nearly four years. They both just work at the pace that's right for them, and I admire the hell out of both of them for it.

    Good luck getting started on your new project. I'm sure you'll do great!


  • Well, I'm envious of you fast writers, but I guess we can't change the way we write. I can put words on a page quickly, but it's my need to revise revise revise that takes me so long, and part of it is not knowing exactly what I want to write when I sit down to begin a project, and figuring that out as I go along. Next project I'm going to REALLY try to get the plot nailed BEFORE I write any chapters.

  • I'm fast, but only when the story is right. It's the revision that takes me the longest time. So I can write a novel in, say, two months, but then spend a year revising it (including beta and critique feedback).

  • I am fast and slow. When properly motivated, I can write a book in a month and a half… if improperly motivated, it can take me closer to four. Editing only takes a month or less per draft, but it depends. My really slow part comes in the planning… it takes ages for me to develop a plot and characters to where I am pleased with them and feel like I can even begin to write.

  • I used to be a slow writer. I'd set aside a period of time to write and spend most of it in one distraction or another. Recently I've made an effort – resolved, actually – to be a faster writer, and so far, it's working. I think I'm the kind of person who needs structure – at least, that's what my teachers all used to say. The trick for me is to create a structure for myself and stick to it.

  • Sierra – After having posted my last comment, I watched an interview with Nell Freudenberger (whom I love) in which she said it doesn't work to sit down and plot a story out before you write because you have discover who the characters are (and what they will do) IN the writing. So maybe my new plan won't work after all. We'll see!

    Franklin – Thanks for visiting! Your flash fiction is fun to read. There's this guy, Jerrold Mundis, who has an audio seminar on writer's block, and i bet if I listened to it, I'd learn to be a faster and more disciplined writer.

  • Hank

    I'm rather a slow writer but still not pokey poke. You know, I'm amazed how quickly write authors for – they are speed leaders as they work in mended structure and stick to it

  • It’s hard to find educated people about this subject, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks