It's Okay to Write Slow

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, 2 to edit. My second took me two years total. It's still slow, but I'm getting better. You will too. That's what practice does.

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

You might be a planner. Natalie Whipple can 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 took 6 years to finish the latest Song of Ice and Fire book. I still bought it.)

You might be unpublished.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 ten) 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.

(remixed from a guest post I did for Natalie Whipple)


Kristen Wixted said...

Evidently Franny Billingsley is super slow. Chime took her 8 years I think, and it wasn't her first book.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

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

And someone was just telling me they saw an interview with JK where she felt rushed to meet her editorial deadlines, and she was thinking about going back (now) and revising them, something that horrified me on two levels: 1) that the editors would rush her, and 2) that she would change anything now, after fans have read every word.

(I think once you release something into the world, it doesn't just belong to you anymore, and you have to resist the urge to monkey with it.)

As for writing know I'm a fast-drafter. (Planning on doing more of that with NaNo and without an outline, even! #thehorrors) But I respect that everyone has their own process, speed, and life. They're not all monkeys hyped on Red Bull such as myself. #thankheavens

Michelle D. Argyle said...

I agree. Write at the best pace you can. I've written slow and I've written fast. Every book is different, and every cycle in my life is different. I don't think it's a bad thing to write fast either.

Unknown said...

Wow, awesome post. Very helpful.

Matthew MacNish said...

I forewent any writing this weekend to play Oblivion with my daughter (really to watch and occasionally look up guides while she played) so I can say without a shadow of a doubt that you are correct, sir.

Margo Berendsen said...

This is so encouraging, thank you. I often think I am a slow writer, but actually I'm an inconsistent writer, sometimes doing bursts of fast writing (NaNoWriMO), other times languishing for weeks over a single chapter.

The bottom line for me is no matter how long it takes, I want to produce something that is the best I and my "team" (CP's, friends, professionals) can make it before letting it go out.

Nancy Thompson said...

My first book practically wrote itself, but I am seriously worried about number 2. And I have to ride the momentum of number 1 while I can. That's enough of a distraction to slow me way down. Egads!

Donna K. Weaver said...

I write fast and edit slow. It's just easy for me to shape the story once I have that initial skeleton in place.

Steve MC said...

I'm on my second Harry Potter book. You can call me a slow reader.

And thanks for this - it's a welcome reminder.

Lauren B. said...

Thank you. The pace at which I write is a constant source of guilt :)

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

I love posts like these. They remind me I'm not alone in being slow. Life keeps happening and I've had to continually put off finishing the two books I'm working on.

Jack said...

I agree. One should never put aside time with family and friends to write. Family is worth getting behind on a word count.