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?