A Case For Slow Writing

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Those of us with Italian backgrounds will know that you don’t make an authentic pasta sauce in an hour. It should be cooked slowly, the ingredients added one by one, at the right time.

First the meats must be browned, next the onions, the herbs, spices and tomatoes incorporated. Then the mixture must simmer for two, three, four hours until it is a thick, mouthwatering sugo, the succulent meat falling off the bones….

It’s good to cook slowly.

But this is a writing blog, right? Yes.

And it’s okay to write slowly too, blending words, sentences and paragraphs together, adding them to just the right part, in the proper sequence.

Time spent writing can often look like this:

You write a few lines, the thoughts are flowing. You’re in the zone. Then life rips you out after what seems like a mere five minutes. You go back to the computer, type another line or two, only to be summoned by the real world again.

If this describes you, don’t worry — the story still brews while you attend to reality, the words sub-consciously simmering as you do what you need to.

There are only two situations when you really must write fast:

1. When you have a contract or a time limit. Writers quickly learn to write with speed when they have a pressing deadline. Students know the perils of handing in late assignments.

2. When you write for a living. If writing is the only way you earn money, then your income is tied to your output.

The rest of us are free to savour our writing if that’s what we want to do. Incidentally, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King are two of many authors who wrote novels at a snail’s pace. And there are lots of valid reasons why writing might take a long time.

Maybe you:

  • have a life.
  • are just starting.
  • don’t need the money.
  • are a meticulous researcher.
  • like looking for exactly the right words.
  • need time to gather your thoughts and assemble the most salient.

Or maybe you write simply because, fast or slow, it’s good for your soul. Amen.

Whether you take a day or three to write a brief article, a month or four to produce a short story, a year or more to draft a novel, I’m here to say, it’s okay to take your time. While ever you are making progress and you haven’t given up, if writing makes you happy, there’s no reason to feel guilty about doing it slowly.

Savour each word, each sentence, each paragraph.

About the Author: C. G. is a freelance writer. Her blog is named for the trees surrounding her home where she loves to play with words ─ the words sort themselves into stories at regular intervals.

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11 thoughts on “A Case For Slow Writing”

  1. Thanks for the reminder. I’m often envious of writers who can churn out a draft in a few weeks. But since I’m just starting my first novel, I definitely shouldn’t be comparing myself to them, haha. I’ll be taking it slow for sure!

  2. I’ve been spending years writing my first novel, but I don’t mind. Most of the time was spent on the first chapter, just figuring it out, and every draft was better than the previous one. Now, I’m almost finished, and my first ideas were embarrassingly laughable compared to what I have now.
    I’m the last two on that list of reasons for going slowly.

  3. I’m interested why you list Stephen King as someone who writes “at a snail’s pace.” I’ve always known King to have a reputation for being one of the most prolific writers around, which I equate with fast writing (ie, he “churns” out novels (and graphic novels and memoirs about writing) at a pace that outdoes most writers).

    I’m sure there’s a reason behind why you list him here; please share! 🙂

  4. “The words subconsciously simmering as you do what you need to do.”

    I do believe that the when I am ready, i will just sit down and the words will come. THANK YOU! Reading this article makes me feel lighter because it lifts the burden of guilt–of what I feel I should be writing.

  5. I’d just like to share the joy I felt from the literary punch in the face that is, “Maybe you: have a life.” That was definitely an unexpected reason, and its jarring effect sent me into a fit of giggles, which subsequently attracted the sideways glances of my coworkers. Well done.

  6. Thanks everyone. One thing I’ve noticed is that writing heightens my overall sense of well being – an excellent reason to stick with it

    Natalie. Yikes! What was I thinking? ‘Wrote slowly’ does not describe Stephen King =] Thanks for calling me out so kindly.

    Thanks Daniel!

  7. Thanks for reminding us of the virtues of slow writing!

    I’m a slow writer myself and I’m always in awe of those writers who manage to produce one, two even three books a year – whole series of 50 books, and sometimes under several pen names because they work in different genres and their readers would be appalled if they discovered th truth: that their favorite author is not one but multiple!

    So my awe remains for such wonderfully active writers but it’s nice to know that it’s not bad to be slow at it, to write and re-write, going over the same chapter, the same story over and over again. Maybe in the end, us tortoise-writers will be rewarded with recognition for our writing after all!

  8. Writing fast sounds like an oxymoron! I definitely savor the writing process, and yes, sometimes I wish I could write faster, but I know I will regret the results. I have a problem with patience, and I think writing has helped me to take my time with all my creative projects and endeavors. I like to equate “slow writing” with “meticulous” 😉 Thoughts, ideas, goals, the perfect words, those occur while the sun is still in the sky. The writing process occurs when the stars are in the sky. Life is busy and hectic, and perhaps that’s why a majority of us writers (at least the ones who aren’t getting paid for it!) are night-people. Thanks for the reassuring post, Carmen!

  9. I saw Connie Willis at a reading recently. Her recent books, Blackout and All Clear (which she wrote as one book, but the publisher insisted on splitting into two) took 8 years to write. She said she is jealous of people who can write quickly, but she just can’t. All I have to say about that is that it’s always worth the wait for one of her books.

  10. I write well under a deadline, but since I only ever had due dates for school papers, my own writing is never on a deadline and I have to set my own deadlines or things never get finished!

  11. I feel that if you are a writer, the only thing u can do is treat it like youre job. You would drive the husband and kids to work and school and then go into the work force yourself, boldly, then why not do your writing career that away. To not let your writing get away!

    1. Set a schedule and adhere to it, meaning the groceries and the laundry have to wait.

    2. find a viable and correct place to begin your writing, i. e, your kitchen table, your home library, a public library, cafe or park, etc and try to get there in enough time to make it happen!

    3. make sure you have plenty of papers, notebooks, pens, pencils, highlighter markers, dictionaries, encyclopedias etc.

    4. stop naming he blame and instead get out there and write!

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