I’m a slow writer.
Always have been and likely always will. Writing has never come easy for me. Perfect prose doesn’t pour out of me while producing a first draft.
Despite the thousands of words I’ve written throughout my life and career, writing is still hard.
But even though writing is difficult for me, that doesn’t mean I don’t find joy in the process. In fact, quite the contrary is true. Writing can be like a good workout at the gym. Sometimes, it’s a little painful. But in the end, it’s rewarding because I stepped up to face the challenge.
If you’re a fellow slow writer, let go of your angst and let go of your frustration. Know that you’re not alone.
The First Step of Writing Slow? Acceptance
Being a slow writer used to bother me. For example, it wasn’t fun to invest an hour of my day to write, only to have a few hundred words to show from it.
But over time, I’ve come to accept, rather than resist, the slow pace at which I write. Rather than discourage it, I’ve built a ritual that supports my tortoise-like speed.
Besides as a slow writer, I’m methodical and handle every piece I write with tremendous care. To me, that doesn’t sound like a weakness. That sounds more like a strength.
Why the Premium on Fast Writing Anyways?
Many writers today feel a certain level of pressure to write fast. After all, our 21st century culture of instant gratification puts a premium on speed. The faster we can plow through our to-do-lists, the better.
There’s also the allure of coming first that accompanies fast-paced writing. Fast writers have the first-mover advantage. Their work hits the market before anyone else’s, putting them at the top of people’s minds.
It’s not bad to have a desire to be first. It can provide enough motivation for you to get off your butt and act. But being first can also come at the expense of quality. When you press yourself to write fast, you often wind up rushed. As a result, what you write may not be what you want to say.
A Focus on the Future, Rather than the Now
Another phenomenon that discourages slow writing is our obsession over what’s next. For many of us, now’s never good enough compared to that imaginary future in our heads. The faster we write, the sooner we can move onto our next project. When we write slow, we can feel like we’re falling behind.
“The great pain of creative work is that once the thing is done, it’s dead to you,” author Austin Kleon said to Debbie Millman during a live episode of her podcast Design Matters. “I mean, execution is literally like an execution.”
We can feel irrelevant if we’re not publishing something new every day. This is an era where content is rich and never-ending. As a result, we slow writers often feel like we can’t keep up. Our peers can seem like they’re writing a million posts a day. Meanwhile, we sit at our desks, staring hopelessly at a blank screen. Our fingers rest on our keyboards as we struggle to string together a single sentence.
But valuing quantity over quality can come at a cost. You can publish more, but the work may not be any good. We slow writers won’t have the high output that our faster peers have. But we can be sure that we put tremendous thought into what we attempted to create.
The Two Chiefs Benefits of Being a Slow Writer
While we’re at it, let’s get another misconception out of the way. You’re not a bad writer if you write slow. I repeat, you’re not a bad writer if you write slow.
Your pace is not indicative of your talent. If anything, you’re likely more deliberate about what you scribble onto a page. You have something to say, but you care about how you say it. Slow writers know they’re accountable for making the life of a reader easy.
There are plenty of reasons why it’s best to embrace, rather than resist, your identity as a slow writer. But to me, there are two chief benefits that come to mind and stand above the rest:
Writing Slow Gives Us Time to Process Our Ideas
Every time I write, moments of inspiration hit me in small bursts. I sit down at my computer with only an idea of what I want to say. But how I want say it takes me a while to figure out – even with an outline and notes.
To an observer, I may not look like I’m working. The blank stare I give my screen and the inactivity that comes with it may seem unproductive. But that’s not what‘s happening there. What I’m doing is giving my mind the space it needs to piece together the next page.
Lazy Writers vs. Slow Writers
There’s a difference between being a lazy writer and a slow writer. They both procrastinate, for sure. But that’s where the similarities end. It’s how procrastination influences them in their work that’s different.
Lazy writers use procrastination as an excuse to avoid taking action. Distractions, both big and small, often pull them away from writing anything at all. When they procrastinate, lazy writers push aside their work for later. They wait for a time when they’re feeling more inspired. But we all know the truth: later is never going to arrive.
Meanwhile, slow writers are the opposite. They drift like lazy writers, but they don’t allow these moments to knock them off track. When faced against procrastination, they persist in their work. As the professionals they are, slow writers continue to show up to work on a consistent basis. Inspiration isn’t a prerequisite.
Slow Writers Don’t Short-Change on Quality
Writing is labor intensive and time consuming. Most writers will spend most of their working hours rewriting what they’ve drafted. A piece usually needs a few rounds of revisions before its ready for publication. This is the norm, not the exception, for most writers who strive for high quality.
Writing slow allows me to produce work that I’m proud to share. I know that there are other writers who can publish something new every day. But matching someone else’s output isn’t my motivation. As a slow writer, I’m in a competition with no one but myself. Keeping that in mind allows me to take my time.
Don’t get me wrong. Being a slow writer doesn’t mean I have zero regard for deadlines. In fact, slow writers need deadlines to keep them on their toes. A deadline should be tight enough to push your boundaries and stretch your limits. But it should also be realistic, too. Panic and fear shouldn’t come standard near the finish.
Writing For the Long Haul
Some writers are under an intense time crunch to publish and produce non-stop. Reporters, for example, battle the pressure of creating content for the 24/7 news cycle. They’re always in a hurry to write about an event that’s trending right now.
Delivering to that system can wear you down, especially if you’re a slow writer. But understand that this is a game you don’t have to play as a creative. In fact, it’s better to go against the grain instead.
Rather than writing only for today, you can also write for tomorrow. As a slow writer, aim to create content that’s evergreen. This is work that’s timeless and written with readers of the present and future in mind.
Being a slow writer can be much harder to accept when the shelf life of what you create is short. But by writing evergreen, you won’t question the investment of time you put into a single piece. You’ll come to appreciate, rather than loathe, the many hours you spend writing instead.
Trusting the Process
As a slow writer, it all boils down to this question:
Do you trust the writing process?
If you don’t, then writing will always be a painful act of drudgery and dread. You’ll go on a journey that’s filled with more frustration than fulfillment. Without faith, writing will always be that chore you want to avoid.
But if you trust it, writing can become your greatest ally. The work you produce as a slow writer will never fail to surprise you. Sure, the road to the finish-line won’t always be pleasant. But you’ll never regret taking it in the first place.
So if you write slow like me, don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself some credit instead. Most people never start. You are at least showing up and doing the work. That’s more than half the battle.