The Value of Writing Slowly

As writers around the world finish up the last few days of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, I find myself considering the value of slowing down rather than speeding up during the writing process. For those not familiar with this annual November event, NaNoWriMo challenges writers to write an entire 50,000 word first draft of a novel in one month. That’s a lot of writing, but not impossible.

I have always been a fast-draft writer, and thanks to various writing deadlines, I’ve had to finish some books faster than I would have liked. (One memorably unpleasant deadline had me finishing a manuscript while in the hospital for a week recovering from the difficult birth of my second child.) The values of fast drafting are clear. Writers can prove to themselves that they are able to write an entire 50,000 words. They are forced to turn off the internal editor in order to get flawed but revisable words on paper. And writing fast makes it easier to keep the entire story and its various threads alive and coherent in one’s head in a way that slow drafting cannot. I love writing my drafts as fast as possible, getting totally immersed in the story, letting it take over my psyche for a month or so in a way that I can’t let it for many months (because I have a life to attend to!).

But as a fast writer, I have over the years come to appreciate the value of the slow and considered process. In a constant drive to produce pages, I’ve at times made unwise choices about plot and character. Such choices would have benefited from my ruminating for a while, considering, letting my imagination work over the problem at a pace all its own. Sometimes an hour of writing work might be spent considering the various ways a character could respond to a problem. No pages are produced, but that hour was valuably spent.

As I’ve moved toward tracking my writing progress by hours rather than pages, I’ve seen the quality of my writing go up. Three hours spent totally focused on my story are three hours well-spent, whether I wrote two pages or ten. The trick is actually staying focused on the story–not counting any time spent checking email or browsing the internet as “work” time.

Conversely, I know plenty of writers who could benefit from speeding up their process, because they spend far too much time tweaking and revising during the first draft–to the detriment of their story. It all depends on one’s natural strengths and weaknesses. My tendency is to hurry through things, so forcing myself to do the opposite allows me to work out creative muscles that need strengthening.

How about you? Do you think you need to slow down as a writer, speed up, or keep humming along just as you are?

Reno constantly reminds me that patience is a virtue.


  1. I’ve found I really like fast writing, and slow thinking. My best success so far involved a few months of rumination before beginning, and that allowed the story itself to flow pretty naturally. Then I take some time to ignore it awhile and go back with fresh eyes and the ideas my brain has been mulling over in the background of my day-to-day life.

    • I prefer to type in sinlcee too when I’m thinking through scenes/ideas, but sinlcee while I type. If, on the rare occasion I *do* have anything playing, it’s classical music. Usually violins. Bach style.My biggest idiosyncrasy is that to check myself, I often go back to the beginning of whatever arc I’m working on and read it out loud to myself. Then interrupt myself. Make a couple corrections. Read it aloud again. More interruptions and corrections. Repeat ad nauseum.Then go back to the beginning of the arc and start reading aloud again .

  2. That’s a really wise approach. I have been guilty in the past of not doing nearly enough pre-story rumination, and I’ve been trying to change that habit. Saves lots of frustrations later.

  3. Thanks for this post, Karen! I started a large wrnitig project (something I don’t have much experience with) recently, and found this series around the same time. It’s been incredibly useful in guiding me through the steps. The concept of a successful wrnitig project is new to me, and I feel like my wrnitig skills are being upgraded to a whole new level. Thanks again, and keep the great information coming![]Karen Marcus Reply:April 12th, 2010 at 1:51 pmYou’re welcome, Amanda. I’m so glad you’re finding the series helpful, and wish you great success with your wrnitig project.[]

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