Just Call Me “Tortoise”


Christmas 2014 052

I’m not a fast writer.

Not that I can’t put down words on the page at a high rate of speed. But that entire process, from the first glimmer of an idea to the moment I can sit back with the knowledge that… Ahh, it’s done.

No, that part takes forever.

Well, not “forever” obviously, or I would never have finished any story I’d ever started. But being a writer (author, storyteller, someone with a complex who enjoys creating worlds and characters and telling them what to do) means that I’m surrounded by other writers (authors, storytellers, etc.) who work at a pace that might not match my own. This is not always good, because then chances for comparison begin.

Some people can write quickly, can finish a first draft, revise it, proofread it, send it off to editors who get it back to them just as quickly, and then boast about how they have a finished novel/short story/work of literary genius on their hands in only a few months. For the record, I am irritated by those people. I’m sorry, that’s probably not the reaction I’m supposed to have. I should most likely feel congratulatory and so pleased that someone else can work at such a fast pace and blah blah blah well aren’t you so special why don’t you go buy yourself a cake or something.

I can’t write like that. I’ve tried, and I can’t. Now, keep in mind that this is not me boasting about how my work is SO SPECIAL that it takes YEARS for the complexity of my ideas to find a proper way to be conveyed outside the VORTEX OF AWESOMENESS that is my brain. No, that’s not it at all. I just suck at writing long stories at a steady pace, at not tossing them into a drawer when I hit a roadblock, and not letting them completely fall apart round and about Chapter Fourteen, only be shoved back into that drawer and dragged out again eight months later.

Last year, I finished two novels. The first one I started working on about seven or eight years ago (possibly longer if the birth of my children hasn’t completely wrecked my ability to recognize time as a concept). Again, this is not a boast. What it means is that I had no idea how to get this story down on the page, that when I did, I wasn’t happy with it, and that I also rewrote the ending several times until all the bits and pieces finally clicked into place.

Also, that seven or eight years? Yeah, I don’t even want to think about how much of that time was spent with this particular novel sitting on my computer for weeks or months at a time, waiting for me to open up the file and give it a fraction of attention.

The other novel I finished last year goes down in the books (See, “books”? Get it? “Books” because we’re talking about… *ahem*… anyway…) as the fastest-written story I’ve ever produced. I started it in November, 2013. It took me thirteen months to finish it, and it was only 52,000 words long.

Oh, and it’s still going through the whole “editing and proofreading” phase now, so if you want to get technical, then… no, it’s not really finished at all.

Of course, here’s the problem: With self and indie publishing growing at such a rapid pace, the ideas of slush piles and querying for agents are no longer the only options writers have to consider. This change has also produced a push for writers to put out as much work as they can, as fast as they can, in order to build an audience and start making money. And don’t forget all of the advice and motivational pep talks that come with that, so a budding author can soon become inundated with all of the cat posters and cherry-picked quotes swirling around their head (most of them with messages like, “WRITE! WRITE FAST! WRITE A SERIES! WHY AREN’T YOU WRITING? DON’T YOU KNOW A UNICORN KICKS A KITTEN EVERY TIME YOU DON’T WRITE???”)

This makes it easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you’re failure if you’re not producing content super-duper quickly. I fell into this trap. I might still be in there, actually, contemplating whether or not I can escape from it by hacking at my captured leg with a dull spoon. But as I write (almost every day, you know, so the kittens are safe… for now) I have to remind myself that I cannot rush. I can’t. Sure, other people can. And bully for them. But my mind doesn’t work that way. It never has, not even before I was juggling work and children and homeschooling and marriage, and most definitely not now.

So to all of you authors I know who can produce story after story and have them completed and ready to be thrust out into the world in a short amount of time, I tip my hat to you.

I may also want to beat you over the head with said hat, but that’s my own issue. Just ignore me, while I plod slowly along, one word after the other.

7 comments on “Just Call Me “Tortoise”

  1. I read somewhere and it said something like ‘Everyone is on their OWN journey”…meaning don’t worry about others just concentrate on being the best YOU, you can be. I have friends who write 1 book a year. Heck, Julia Quinn has done it that way for years. The point is, this is YOUR journey. No one else’s. There is no wrong or right way to write and produce a story. We are artists. And we should treat it as such. Be proud of what you do and how you do it. Don’t worry about comparison. Cause at the end of that day, you gotta do what makes you happy. 🙂 *hugs*

    1. Very true. And thank you! I feel this way about marketing, too, that I’m not up to scratch with other authors, that I’m failing because I don’t blog regularly or have an “author brand” or know 5 bajillion people on Twitter. But at the end of the day, I really just want to write stories. Because whether fast or slow, marketed or not, they’re still going to be in my head and they’re still going to need to be written. And I have to write them in a way that’s best for me. 🙂

  2. Great article and I can totally relate. The message of quick turnaround on novels is everywhere in the independent market, wish is good and bad. Good because more Indies are putting out great works that can be recognized, but bad because of the pressure to churn three to six novels in a year. I’m struggling with trying to release a regular length novel and novella. It’s tough especially for those of us with day jobs who aren’t writing full time.

    1. There is a lot of pressure, and when you’re constantly told that getting that fifth or sixth book published is when you really start to take off, the drive becomes to WRITE WRITE WRITE NOW and hit that magic number that’s supposed to translate to steady sales every day. And I applaud people who can work that fast AND put out great work. I, unfortunately, can’t (and will now lament all the years in my late teens and early twenties when I had hours of free time at my disposal and chose to marathon Lord of the Rings over and over rather than get some writing time in.)

  3. I’ll be honest – people whipping out books left and right annoy me, too. Even keeping a steady pace with writing, the amount of edits and rewrites and edits – and, did I mention edits? – takes time. I just don’t know how people do it.


    Oh my god! I’m totally hanging that on the wall somewhere! LOL. Now I’m gonna write to save the kitten!

  5. Oh wow, I feel exactly like you do. I’m especially tired of people badgering me to write faster, despite me explaining that my process starts with a lot of outlining and world-building (which IS writing, but not the “word count” kind). It’s like if they can’t measure my process in words, it’s not happening. But to each their own, and all we can do is find supportive friends who understand and encourage us on at our own pace. Also, thank you for your honesty re: admitting fast writers annoy you. I feel like no one is allowed to say that, we’re all just supposed to applaud, but it is irksome. So instead, I applaud your 7 year novel! Way to go! Good on you for taking however much time you needed to write a great story!

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