It’s time for me to confess: I am a slow writer.
I’ve tried to up my word count, to keep track of daily words, to do word sprints. I’ve tried getting up early; I’ve tried staying up later. I’ve tried finding my “peak writing time.” I’ve tried dozens of motivational methods, “productivity hacks,” and the like. But nothing has worked.
I am slow. Some days, I write 150 words. Some days, I don’t write at all. This is mostly due to time and energy. Working, taking care of two small children, and being pregnant with a third child all take their toll on my free time, physical stamina, and mental focus. This isn’t me grouching; it’s simply a fact of life and who I am. Maybe I have an iron deficiency, I dunno. But some days, I’m just not feeling it.
Some days, I can write closer to 2,000 words. When those days come, I’m grateful for them, but I have no idea how they happen or how to replicate them. In fact, I don’t think I’m supposed to replicate them.
Because I’ve come to learn that my creative process is not linear or predictable. Some might say that I need to get more disciplined, or that I need to treat writing like a job. Set the alarm for 5:00 a.m. and write those 1,000 words, dammit. But I already have a job; it’s a necessary evil. I don’t want my writing to become my job. Bradbury said, “Relax, don’t think, work.” Work is awesome; I love to work. I love to work on my blog posts, I love to work on my role-playing campaigns, I love to work on my lesson plans for teaching. Work — the kind that stimulates my heart and imagination — is fun.
But a job? A job is a drag, man. A job is stress. A job is plugging away at something simply because bills got to be paid and if they don’t, we’re living on the streets.
I don’t want writing to be a job; I do my writing to get away from my job.
What I’ve learned about myself over the past few months is that I need to let my imagination stew and ferment and congeal in order to be productive. What does it mean to stew, ferment, and congeal? It means I need to write in my “writer’s notebook” even if what I’m writing about has nothing to do with my Work In Progress (WIP). It means I need to listen to music that gives me goosebumps, or music that challenges me, or music that I’ve never heard before, or music I’ve heard twelve-dozen times. It means I need to spend a day writing a D&D adventure, or making up a character for my FATE campaign, or reading Conan stories. It means I need to go outside and play “Adventure” with my three-year-old instead of squirreling myself away from my family because “Mama needs to work.” It means watching Prisoner of Azkaban because it pumps me up, even though I could be using that time to write.
This isn’t procrastination. Procrastination is screwing around on twitter for three hours a day. Procrastination is not reading the latest SPFBO novel on my kindle, but reading a bunch of dumb political stories online instead. Procrastination is watching Antiques Roadshow all evening when I should really be noodling around in my writer’s notebook.
But listening to evocative music? That’s part of my writing process. Working on a side project? That’s part of my writing process. Doing something every day to stay in contact with my WIP, even if that means just rereading what I wrote yesterday? That’s part of my writing process. If that means it takes me several months to finish a draft instead of four weeks, then so be it. That’s several months of FUN instead of four weeks of hell.
And I’m not one of those writers who hates writing but likes “having written.” I LOVE when I’m actually writing; it’s like the greatest challenge and the biggest natural high all rolled into one. But I don’t love feeling like I have to do it, or that I’m a failure if I don’t do it everyday. I don’t love having a word quota. It looms over every word I write, that damn quota; it casts unforgivable, judgmental glares in my direction. It’s like having a boss leaning over my shoulder and tut-tutting every choice I make. No thanks! I’ll stick with undisciplined and happy, if that’s alright with the rest of you.
And I know there will be writers out there who will challenge this and say I’m just fooling myself. But when I try to set daily quotas, or I try to stick to a certain writing time, when I try to keep pace with other writers who release three or four books a year (or more!), I find myself mired in self-hatred, stagnation, and, ultimately, joyless writing. I don’t want writing to be joyless. I don’t want it to be a source of stress. And, well, maybe that means I won’t be a six-figure author (or even a five-figure one). And I’m okay with that. I don’t want writing to be “just a hobby,” but I’m not going to go against my nature just for the sake of a career.
I suppose this makes me a lousy entrepreneur. I’m okay with that.
I’m also okay with being a slow writer. In fact, I’m more than okay with it. I love it. Writing slow means writing with joy; it means making every moment of my day into a “working on my novel” moment. When I don’t have the obligation to write, I find my mind is more eager to engage with my story even when I’m doing other things.
Can’t manage to find the mental energy to write today? Totally fine. I managed to come up with a cool idea for my story while fixing lunch. Can only manage fifty words on my WIP? Awesome! Those are fifty words I didn’t have yesterday. Noodled around with that mega dungeon I’m stocking for my next RPG session? Excellent. It gave me a chance to be creative while stepping away from my WIP. Hearing a cool song pop up on my iPod (one I haven’t heard in ages)? Love it. That’s inspiration for the next scene I need to write.
When I make storytelling and creativity a seamless, integrated part of my life, I find that writing becomes easier, and that I have less pressure to switch from “writing time” to “other parts of my life” time. They all become the same thing. And by scaling back my goals, by keeping my deadlines modest, I become a happier, less stressed person.
Writing should be fun. And if that means being a slow writer, then I claim that title and wear it proudly.
I am a slow writer. And I love it.