Often, when looking for writing advice, you will receive contradictory and impossible answers.
Some writers will say that, in order to be a good writer, you need to write EVERY DAY.
Some will tell you that, in order to be a good writer, you need to write a LOT.
Others will tell you that, in order to be a good writer, you need to learn how to write QUICKLY.
So you return home after receiving this news, these “pieces of advice.”
You slump down onto the cold tile floor, head in hands, eyes burning.
You feel like a failure before you’ve even begun.
You can’t write every day.
When you do have time to sit down and write, you only write maybe a few hundred words at a time – maybe less.
And even then, it takes you a very long time to write what you’ve sat down to write.
You feel obsolete, foolish. Like you should just give up.
Writing is a very personal matter. Everyone does something different that works for them.
The problem is, it takes a long time to figure out exactly what that something is.
There is a ton of trial and error.
Writer’s also suffer from a very unique form of imposter syndrome, a kind that causes us to doubt our own abilities and compare our progress to others, others that have been in the writing and publishing world for way longer than we have.
We thing, “I’m not and never will be as good as them.”
But you’re also not them. You’re you. Your story is yours, your writing process and style are yours.
And all those things that matter when it comes to being a writer? Well, you are the only one who knows how they all fit into the great big puzzle that is your life.
Those advice-givers were able to do the things they now think everyone should be doing because they were lucky enough to have time to fit them into their lives.
Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t. Either way, it doesn’t make you any less of a writer.
Believe it or not, you’re actually in the same boat: as writers, we do what we can, when we can, to reach the ultimate end goal.
And in case you’ve forgotten what the end goal is, I will now kindly remind you: it’s finishing your goddamn story and putting it out there for the world to see.
Every writer does different things to get there; every writer takes different amounts of time to reach it, and every writer has different definitions of what “finished” actually looks like.
But the only way we get there is by writing. Even if you’re only writing 100 words every other week for two hours at a time, you’re still writing.
And, therefore, you’re still a writer.
You matter. Your work matters. You are not a failure and you should not give up.
Fast Writing vs. Slow Writing
When I set out on my journey to “finally become” a full-time writer, I read again and again and again that the #1 thing I had to do was continuously generate a lot of content in a short amount of time.
And maybe that advice is correct. For some people.
But do you want to know what I’ve learned? From my own experiences and understanding my own capabilities?
It’s a story as old as time: the hare doesn’t always beat the tortoise.
And if the hare does beat the tortoise, then odds are that the tortoise’s slow, steady pace allowed him the time to produce something that genuine and of higher quality.
Obviously I destroyed the metaphor there a little bit, but I think you still catch my drift.
I have discovered, and will argue until my last breath, that it is totally okay to be a slow writer.
To take your time with things.
To sit on an idea for a while before picking up a pen.
To put a finished draft away for a week or a month or even a year before coming back to it again.
Sure, doing so doesn’t automatically add zeros to your bank account.
But I believe taking your time shows how much you care about the work you are producing. You care, and therefore you want to get it right.
You want your project to be the best damn thing you could have created at that time.
And honestly? I’d rather read a fantastic story that took the writer a decade to write than read some B.S. someone spit out in a day.
The good stuff is worth waiting for.
In Defense of Being a Slow Writer
Sometimes it takes time to understand the proper direction of a story.
An idea will come to you, you’ll begin to write it down, and then you think, “no, this isn’t right.”
Maybe you finished what you started. Or, maybe you start a whole new thing.
Maybe it takes more than one finished draft to understand your theme, your world, your characters.
Maybe it takes you years of writing and re-writing before you really feel you’ve grasped what that one idea is actually about.
When I started on my first major project, (working title is now Daughter of the Faerie Queen) I was 13 years old. Just 13.
What does a 13 year old girl know about writing a book?
But every weekend for probably six months, I would sit down and I write a chapter of this story.
That first draft was 72 pages long. 72 pages. It had a sort-of beginning, sort-of middle, and sort-of end.
Overall, it looked exactly like the kind of thing you’d think a 13 year old girl would write.
But since I was 13 years old, and I thought it was the best thing ever.
I shoved it under every nose I could, talked about how I would be ready to publish it by the end of the second draft.
But again, I was 13 years old.
I had very few life experiences to pull from, and while I had always been a good writer, my style was really just an emulation of the other authors I was reading at the time.
But still, I wrote another draft. By the time I finished that one, I was about 15.
At that point I was starting to think hm, maybe this does need a little more work.
So, I wrote another draft.
With each draft, I aged.
I came to that story and those characters with more understanding of life, more understanding of what it means to grow up, better storytelling skills, a stronger writing style.
I wrote the most recent draft for that story last summer, at age 24.
And now. NOW I feel like I am sort-of beginning to understand what that story is really about.
It just took me over a decade to figure it all out.
“But, Rebecca,” you say. “Of course it did. You were so young when you started.”
Yes, you’re right.
But since finishing that last draft, I started writing two other books. And let me tell you what: I’m watching the same pattern emerge.
I write a rough draft, think about it for a while, and then write another one, making more changes, adding more detail, furthering my understanding of the world.
I wrote a post once about how sometimes, you begin to understand a story one layer at a time. I stand by that idea.
No, it hasn’t taken me another 11 years to finish a book. I hope it doesn’t take me that long ever again.
But you know what? Over the course of those 11 years, I learned and grew and changed so much.
And while I was learning and growing and changing, I was writing. Always writing.
The things I learned, the way I grew and changed and matured – that’s all reflected in those shitty drafts I kept on plugging away at.
That story serves as a kind of distorted analog of my childhood.
If I had tried to publish it as it stood when I was done with the second draft at 15, I probably wouldn’t have gotten very far.
But now that I have that kind of writing time and experience under my belt, I have discovered that writing other stories comes much, much easier. It might take me two years to get to the finished draft of a book now, rather than 10.
There’s Nothing Wrong With Taking Time to Think Things Through
For example, I’ve thought about writing this very blog post for months before sitting down to actually do it.
The articles I publish on Medium? Yeah, those sit on the draft folder for at least a week if not more before they see the light of day.
Because I know I need to take my time when I’m creating something that will (hopefully) be read and enjoyed by other people.
Maybe there are some people out there who can plug out 3+ posts and articles a day. I know of some that do it, and even some who manage to do it well.
But you know what? I’m not one of those people.
And I’m totally okay with that.
I know I’m still learning, and I feel like the stuff I do put out there is still pretty okay and getting better all the time.
If I feel that something isn’t ready to go out into the world, I don’t send it out.
I give myself another day, another chance to look it over, to tweak it, to change the wording, to clarify some of my points.
Very rarely do I write something and publish it that same day.
Don’t get me wrong, I have. But those things usually don’t do as well as my other posts that I take more time with.
I’m sure the writing gods will shoot me down for saying this, but I am a firm believer of quality over quantity.
So if you don’t feel like your story is ready, then it’s not ready. You don’t need to be embarrassed or set unrealistic time constraints for yourself. Just write. And when it’s done, well.
You know what you need to do.
Beware of Perfectionism
One reason why so many writers, especially writers who want to make a living solely from their writing, push quantity over quality is because they do not want to be held back by perfectionism.
If you just write, publish, and repeat, then you avoid the dangers of thinking too much, of doubting yourself, of feeling the need to go back and re-do it again and again and again.
But let me tell you something: I think a little bit of perfectionism is a good thing when it comes to creation.
And I think writers can avoid falling into the perfectionist trap (AKA never finishing anything because it’s not perfect) by realizing the line between something needing more work and something needing to be perfect.
Writers, especially new writers, very rarely produce their best work on the first go-round.
It’s in their best interest to re-read, to edit, and then maybe wait a day or two and do another re-read and another round of editing before they click that submit button or send it off to their friends and beta readers.
The thing you have to strive for is good enough.
Did you talk about everything you wanted to talk about?
Are there any typos left to fix?
Do your sentences make sense? Flow together?
Are your ideas organized and coherently expressed?
Does the story overall, seem to do the thing that all stories strive to do, which is entertain, educate, and keep the reader reading?
The more you write and the longer you do it, you will find yourself getting better and faster.
Maybe you’ll never be one of those people that regularly turns out a whole novel in a month, but that’s okay.
You don’t need to be.
Writing, as I have said before and many have said before me, is a practice.
But if you give up, then you’ll never get to the next step.
So, be you the tortoise or the hare, keep writing.
It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get to the finish line so long as you get there eventually.