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So Tell Me: Do You Write Slower Now?

Tuesday Tip:  Join Inkwell, a new community for writers, if you haven't already!

I've been thinking about something lately.

The more I write and the more I learn about writing, the less I produce and the less confident I am. 

Here's what I mean:

When I wrote my first novel, I wrote 152k in five months.  I clocked in 50k for my second in two months.  My third was 55k in three months.  I finished that last draft almost a year ago.  Since then, I've tried rewriting it about ten times with no success, and I feel like I've been peeling the words off my brain one at a time.  So I started something new hoping the words would flow like they used to.  Nope.  I'm lucky to write a few thousand (or hundred) words in one month now.  No matter what I work on, I spend a whole lotta time on very little.

So what happened? 

Has my internal editor become so strong it paralyzes me?  Have I lost all confidence in myself?  Have I spread myself too thin with everything I have going on?  Have I spent too long trying to rewrite novel three?  Is it that I'm so determined to fix that novel I can't move on?  Am I no longer writing for me?

Not sure.  But I feel like the more I learn about writing, the slower it goes and the less confident I am.  I can't seem to let go and just spew words anymore. 

Seems like it should be the other way around, doesn't it?

So Tell Me:  As you've learned to write, do you find you write slower than you used to?  Are you more or less confident in your ability?


Natalie Aguirre said...

After my first draft, yes, I have been writing slower. To help myself speed up, because I do want to be productive, I try to think of the point of the scene when I'm struggling, and focus on that. That helps and my critique partners help with suggestions.

I don't look at word count (except to cut when I get too wordy) to judge my productivity. In part because I've mostly been working at revising what I've already written. But I don't think I would because I realize I work full time and can't always be as productive with writing as I'd like. Especially with blogging too. I just try to plod forward each writing session. Sometimes it's only a page. Maybe if you looked at it like that it would help. Then use Elana Johnson's advice on how to revise the manuscript in 30 days. I found it very helpful and am about to use it again.

I hope this helps you because I know you are a great writer from all your blog posts.

Laura said...

An editor, who is also an author said that she literally has to turn the editor off in her head and let the words fall where they will.

But most importantly, what I've learned from personal experience is that each story you write will come differently. Just because things went a certain way with your first book, don't expect the same method to work with your next.

Are you stuck on the story line or the sentence structure?

The story comes first.

When you sit down to write, have a scene in mind. Know what the goal of the scene is and what the characters need to accomplish. Figure out the tension and complications and how their weakneses and strengths will tie into it.

Then write. Get the whole scene out there. Usually a scene is only one chapter so it's not impossible to do in a couple hours.

This will not only increase your words per day, but help you focus on the most important part of writing, which is your story.

Editing is what comes after the story has had a chance to blossom. If you prune your tree before it's had a chance to grow any leaves, you'll kill it.

storyqueen said...

Confidence waxes and wanes.

Sometimes I have more than enough...sometimes not.

But most writing I do is for me...to amuse/please myself. Sometimes,a piece might find a larger audience, and if so, well that is great. But if I think too much about that audience too early on, well, it's just not as fun and I kind of shrivel up.

The best part of writing is the writing. I love that part of it. Seriously, I crack myself up or make myself cry with my words all the time. I don't worry about what it might become until it is fully formed.

Sometimes I have ideas that are good...maybe too good, if you know what I mean. I feel unworthy to tackle them. But then...often something will happen...or enough time will go by and I'll get all brave and jump in.

Let what you have already written go for a while.

Try something new...and go slowly at first. Maybe a page a day.

Ah, the ups and downs of the writerly life....

Good luck!


Anonymous said...

I've been rewriting for months now--two different novels so it's hard for me to gage whether my productivity has gone down or not. I have written lots of new words to replace the old.

I will say that all of my manuscripts came out of me in different ways. The first one extremely slow--a couple of years, and the second in four months.

E. Arroyo said...

Writing the first draft is the fun part. It's when we create and fall in love. Editing is tearing it down and restructuring it so that it makes sense. As writers, I've learned we have to wear many hats--writer, editor, grammarian, marketing director...the list can go on and on. Don't get discouraged. Just wear your editing hat on and change your mindset.

Unknown said...

I do tend to write slower than I used to, but I also spend more time scrutinizing the words and write pretty solid first drafts. I know a lot of people just write, just let the words come out, but that's not like me. I had to force myself to write about 2500 words a day. It took me three months to write my last MS but only two weeks to revise to the point where it's good enough to submit.

Am I more confident in my writing? That's such a hard question. Yes and no. I know I have talent, but my doubts about whether or not my work can stand out do get the best of me sometimes. It's a tough line to walk, being humble while still knowing you can craft a solid story.

Anne Gallagher said...

I find that as I've learned more about the writing process, I've also had to turn off that internal editor with the first draft. Not easy at all. I keep wanting to try and fix things right away. But I push myself to just write. I need to get the first draft written, and then I can fix all I want.

Janet Johnson said...

I definitely write slower, but I've found my work needs a lot less editing than before (and yes, it still needs plenty, but it's relative, isn't it?).

When I'm stuck, I just force myself to type out bare bones work. One chapter in particular, I had to completely redo the whole thing because I was telling the story (not showing) for pages on end. But it was much easier after I had something to work on.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

It's like everything else in life. It must be ordered and balanced so it doesn't take over, or on the other hand it doesn't render us so lax that we use little or no effort. Personally, I've found tremendous growth in my writing with the passing of time. (Granted, I've only been writing the past two years after a fourteen year break.)But I set aside time for it even when I don't feel like it; however, the deeper I dive into the business aspect of writing I tend to feel swamped. It definitely affects my output. I'm currently fielding a new schedule for myself, attempting to balance it all. (Yeah, and I have four kids, the dog, a house and the husband, too.)

Here's what I see from what you've written. You used to write fast but a lot, maybe too much--meaning word count. Now, your not producing as much but I bet your writing has amazingly improved from when you began. Remember that on a daily basis. Print it out in big letters and post it all over your house.

Finding that balance between media/marketing ourselves and actually writing passionately is tough. But I believe it's necessary. Without it, the void sucks the love out of writing.
Just my feeble opinion. ";-)

Casey Something said...

Natalie: I haven't been looking at word count for the last several months, partly because I've been rewriting and partly because it's never much. It's kind of nice! I'll have to find Elana's revision in 30 days posts. I don't remember those! Thank you.

Laura: I'm not sure what I'm stuck on. The writing just doesn't flow anymore, and I find myself second guessing everything. I feel like the story doesn't fly into my head like it used to, I guess. Love your advice. I'll try to focus on scene and see what comes of it.

Shelley: I think all the revision I've been trying to do has killed the joy, but I'm also really stuck on that story. I'm really trying to figure out how to move forward because I feel like I'm kind of in crisis mode. Thanks for the advice. : )

Paul: I definitely think each MS comes out differently. My problem is that I actually feel paralyzed to some degree. I'm really trying to figure out what's holing me up. I hope your rewriting is going better than mine!

E. Arroyo: We definitely have to wear a lot of hats! I think the revision/rewriting hat is a hard one for me. Hopefully I can learn to wear it well.

Sarah: I'm really hoping to find a process like you have, where my first drafts come out relatively solid and clean and don't need years of rewriting and revision. Ha! Wish me luck. It might take me awhile to get there.

Piedmont Writer: I think my internal editor has a lot to do with it. I've become very critical of my writing, but I think it's actually hurting me! Must find a balance.

Janet: Sometimes it comes down to forcing ourselves doesn't it? I feel like I've been doing a lot of that lately.

Sheri: I do feel like my writing has improved quite a bit, but I think I might be too critical now. I definitely need to find a balance. That's why I've been giving so thought to how I want to move forward. I feel like I'm holding myself back. Thanks you for the thoughts and advice!

Unknown said...

I've always written slowly, but I find as I learn more about writing -- and write more -- I get more accomplished in less time. In short, I revise less.

I don't know if this is good or bad -- except for the just writing part.

Heather Kelly said...

When I set word goals, or chapter goals :), I always end up with more stress than product. I think that I am tougher on my writing now, because I can't really use the excuse that I am a new writer (although I so still am!). I think the bar is higher, which makes it a little scary. But the thing that gives me forward motion is just writing for a chunk of time. Knowing that it's only an hour at a time doesn't allow me to dwell on my doubts. I just write. So, I'm working on one hour at a time. I know my writing is improving, but I see many more problems than I did before. Which is good, that I'm getting better, and bad that I know how bad the writing can be. :) I hope that you will come out the other side of this introspective phase and be a stronger writer for it. We're all here for you!

word verification (I'm not kidding): bless

I think that is the first time I've ever gotten a real word, and what a doosey!

Christina Lee said...

YES! I write more slowly because I self-edit too much. Like, how can I say that better, how can I show it more instead of tell. How can I stop using that word so much?
But it's saves me more time at the end!

Casey Something said...

Kay: I think that's good, and I think that's how it should be.

Heather: That's definitely part of it, seeing how much needs improving. I know I need to keeping writing to learn, but I think I'm frustrated by where I'm at. I need to learn to turn that off, even for an hour at a time, like you have.

Christina: Yes! That's exactly it. But I have to wonder if I'm over thinking now. Oh, the ups and downs!

Yat-Yee said...

My experience is actually the opposite: I was painstakingly slow in my first novel, and now I am trying to quickly put words down (although my quickly is still slow compared to some writers I know who can crank out 5000 words a day, when that's closer to my weekly goal.)

Marquita Hockaday said...

Yes! I know what you mean, but maybe it is a good thing that we all take so long to produce our writing- maybe that makes it better...but I know exactly what you mean. I am in an MFA program and I feel like a lot of times it is making me lose confidence in my writing abilities. Really good post :)

Joshua McCune said...

Way slower now -- my internal editor has become a water-boarder. Part of it is confidence, but mostly it's a better understanding of rhythm/pacing/etc. (least that's what I tell myself)

Thermocline said...

I have gotten slower too. I think my internal editor gets to pushy with wanting everything to come out sounding great the first time that he blocks the flow of words. The ideas are still there but they take longer to get out.

It's so depressing to spend an entire day on one sentence. I'd like to say it feels great to get it right but sometimes it's been too much of a struggle to feel good about the result.

Sorry to be a downer.

Scott said...

It all depends on the story. I wrote 50,000 words in 2 weeks on one rough draft. On other rough drafts, not so much. I think it has more to do with my passion/drive for what I'm writing, then because of what you mentioned in your post.

As for confidence . . . well, I know I can write. I have confidence in my abilities, but I also have doubts. Without doubts, well, I think we'd all be some pretty bad writers. Doubt is what centers me, makes me pull back and look at my writing with critical eyes. Over confidence isn't always a good thing.

I do know, on my most recent work in progress, I wrote small chapters, and normally one per day, rather than multiple chapters per day. I have no clue why. It's just how I did this project. Now, some of it might have to do with time. During the week, I don't have that much time to devote to writing. Still, overall, I think it's the drive of the story, the passion so to speak, that relates directly to how much I write on a project.


Elana Johnson said...

Absolutely. I'm not sure why. Maybe the drive to get something finished and out there isn't as strong. Maybe I've developed more patience. Maybe I just realize that writing isn't my life, and I need to live too, so I spend less time on it. Maybe I've found that I social network WAAAAY more than I did then, and that takes time from my writing.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

But I definitely produce less now than I ever have before.

Emily J. Griffin said...

Have you read Nathan Bransford's post about the Dunning-Kruger effect? It talks about having a lack of confidence in your own abilities and how for some people this may actually be the mark of great genius. While other grossly over-estimate their abilities and believe they are a-ma-zing at something that they truly suck at (aka: the american idol effect).

This post started a rather timely discussion on whether this issue is really this pyschological "disorder" or simply that a GOOD writer is always attempting to grow and thus is hyper aware of making strides and taking time to learn and study there craft. It's quite interesting (and does sort of sefue into my next point).

I think what you're talking about here is similar. It's like when we are children, before become aware of our bodies or of societal norms, we simply enjoy and live life to it's fullest. We frolick in our bathing suits without pause, we play with girl (or boy) toys because we just want to, not because society says we should. Then as we grow, we develop and awareness of everything. For some this awareness can be crippling. It can create body images or sexual identity complex and take what were once harmless and carefree adventures and turn them into crushing moments.

I think the same can be said of writing. As we grow as writers, and particularly after we make the internal decision to BE A WRITER, we lose the innocent, unfettered love we used to have for the written word. We become so self and socially aware that we can't move forward (or back), bringing on more negative and disparing thoughts.

Sadly, this can all become a viscious cycle, particularly if we don't learn to acknowledge it and strive to overcome it.

I am personally in the acknowledgement stage. I know that I stand in my own way often and many times do not love writing the way I used (I also don't love a nice bikini the way I used to either), but I think the sheer fact that we are still trying to make it work and to continue own demonstrates our capacity to overcome.

You are definitely not alone in your lethargy. I am stuck in the mud with you. But I think there is a light (or a shower) at the end of the tunnel. Or at least, I choose to believe there is.

Unknown said...

I would have to say yes. I think it takes me longer to get the story out because I'm trying to develop the characters and see if a plot twist came naturally, where as beforehand I didn't really think about the story, I just wrote it.

Martina Boone said...

Nathan Bransford just blogged about this on March 22nd. It's a must read. He outlines the Dunning-Kruger affect, which basically states that those with talent tend to doubt themselves, while those without talent seem oblivious. Go check it out and you'll feel much better!

Sara {Rhapsody and Chaos} said...

SLOWER. Oh gosh, slower. I think my brain went into info overload and I was so intune with all the rules and different guidelines that it ended up taking away a HUGE chunk of my Voice. The thing is, we all have to know the rules to understand when we break them--and the right ways to do it. But sheesh.

kathrynjankowski said...

Oh yeah, I'm definitely going slower, but I think it will mean fewer revisions. *fingers crossed*
Frankly, I'd rather write 200 words a day that are keepers than 1,000 that are not.

Hannah said...

I do write slower now. I plan instead of pants my way through.

Ann Marie Wraight said...

I can definitely relate to most people and the comments they made - I think that Emily probably echoed my feelings the most accurately. My personal stumbling ground and then quaqmire is always the dreaded middle of whatever I am writing. I feel so strongly about what I envision for my beginning and off I go racing away...then around the 15.000 word mark I ALWAYS sink into the quicksand. The beginning of the book may only have taken me 3 weeks but then...slow motion...self doubt and worries that maybe my characters should have gone in a totally different direction, made different choices etc etc. I know how the ending is going to be but those darned,self-willed little creations of mine just don't seem to always want to be obliging. That's when I go to standstill mode and go on networking frenzies, googling orgies and anything else that keeps me from facing the decisions for the DREADED MIDDLE.
Do any of you guys out there have a similar problem?

Stina said...

In a way I wrote my last first draft in less time than my previous ones. But that's because I went unplugged most of the time, and my daughter (youngest child) started kindegarten. Hour wise, I was probably much slower due to my internal editor. Haven't figured out yet how to unplug her during first drafts.

Arlee Bird said...

I feel more confident the more I write, but the speed issue is the same: sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes half-fast.


Tara McClendon said...

For me there is an ebb and flow not necessarily related to what I learn. I do have to limit how much time I spend learning, because I'd learn all day and write nothing way too often if I didn't. :]

Lisa Nowak said...

The book I'm working on now is definitely going slower. I don't know whether that's because I can't shut off my internal editor or whether more stuff has gotten in the way of my writing time.

Victoria Dixon said...

I'm with you on this one. I haven't written much that's completely new in longer than I care to think about. In part because I'm obsessing over my current novel and finding an agent.

I know I need to find my next story and I am researching possibilities. I haven't found what I'm looking for yet, thank you Bono.

However, it does remind me of Nathan Bransford's blog of a few days ago. The less you know, the more unwarranted confidence you probably display. The opposite is also true. The good news is, we may both be so underconfident because we're so aware of our craft. I can find a pep me up in the unlikeliest spaces. ;D

Unknown said...

To me, the biggest thing that helps when writing the first draft is to turn off grammar check (or, in my case, I write my first draft in google docs). It helps not only literally in the sense that you're not seeing every flaw glaring at you in green, but also it's a psychological thing. It reminds me that, ok, right now I'm not worrying about writing perfectly. I'm just going to write it so that it sounds good to me and move on. Just get it down.

Katharina Gerlach said...

I write faster because my typing skills improved. But I feel a lot less confident although everybody (including my agent) keeps telling my that my novels are amazing. Why then haven't they found a publisher yet?

Unknown said...

I've actually noticed that I work so much slower than I used to. However, more and more of what I get, I keep just from knowing what's good and what's crap.

Great question! :)

Rachael said...

YES. First my novel took two months to write and clocked in at 100k. My second and third took two months each and clocked in at 35k and 50k. My fourth took nine months and the first draft was 45k.

What was different? Well, school for one. I didn't revise nearly as much back then as I do now. I didn't have as many internet and blog related distractions. Why my word counts changed, I'm not entirely sure. I still have absolutely no clue how my first ended up being 100k. Though it might've been the amount of extraneous plot events.

dj said...

I've never been speedy, but I think I'm slower now, too. Maybe that's partly the result of trying to stay fresh. It's not easy to think of a different approach, a new plot twist, unexpected language, etc.!

lauralascarso said...

When my internal critic is at its worst, I write while watching television, kind of half doing both. Then the next day, I go through and pretty it up. I have a dear friend and brilliant writer who struggles with this a lot. The plus side is, when she's finished, it's fantastic. Maybe lower your expecations a little? And find a really poorly written book to read--that always makes me feel better. :>)