To the Disconsolate Writer Who Hates Her Pace

Moai Rano, Easter Island from Wikimedia Commons
Moai Rano, Easter Island from Wikimedia Commons

From an anonymous email:

Dear Jan: I’ve seen you describe yourself as a slow writer. I am one also, and it makes me discouraged to the point I’ve considered quitting. Do you have any advice?

Ah, yes. Speed-of-sloth is the precise phrase I use, and while at one point it was a way of laughing through my pain and frustration, now I type it with a sense of peace. It’s simply become a way to adjust others’ expectations.*

I also consider it to be temporary in that, as I learn about my process, I believe I’ll accelerate. Someday I’ll hit speed-of-snail.

How did I get to that healthier self-concept? It’s often easier for me to see what I believe and why I believe it when I think of others in a similar situation. So I asked myself, What do I know about how to treat people who’ve been labeled slow in other contexts?

While I could talk about my experience with adults in my former medical practice—in fact, I did when I wrote the initial versions of this post, and the principles are the same—you deserve a more visceral and unvarnished truth. Let me tell you about a fine-boned child in my life and the phone call I received one evening, concerning his reading abilities. “Sam” wasn’t keeping up in the educational system, they said. Sam needed help. Caring for Sam took me out of an intellectual headspace into a fierce and stormy advocacy.

Do you have a similar child in mind? Keep them with you as we go through this exercise and I prod you with questions.

Too slow for what, and in the end, will it matter?

After a initial period of shock and dismay, I found it helpful to approach the label with a degree of calm skepticism.

All institutions go through fads. I’m not advocating stick-your-head-in-the-sand rationalization, but I wondered if it was possible that Sam was a victim of arbitrary standards? Did he simply have a learning curve with a unique shape? Over the course of his lifetime, would his present pace matter?

In fact, when I did my research, I learned my province was hugely invested in having kids read by the end of first grade—so much so, they provide extra funding if a child didn’t pass certain milestones. To be blunt, schools had financial incentives to give kids labels.

Yet there was ample evidence from other countries that early and late readers reach adulthood with no qualitative differences in reading ability.

(In Sam’s case, this turned out to be true. One year later, with no fancier measures than a different teacher and engaging books, he was reading three grades above the expected level.)

Could this be a sign of healthy resistance?

Speaking of arbitrariness, we all know of classrooms where kids are rewarded for memorization rather than actual learning, or for knowing how to round off their square corners to become a round peg. I say this as one who has willingly played the game.

But understand the value of a child who won’t or can’t buy into this mindset. The very qualities which keep them from excelling in a narrow, rigid arena might be the exact qualities which will help them be enormously productive elsewhere. Are they stubborn, unwilling, incapable? Or are they independent-thinkers, rational, showing leadership qualities?

Does the slowness even belong to the child?

Slowness is a symptom, not a diagnosis. It’s like the label of poor in that knowing a person suffers from a lack of money makes you no closer to identifying the root causes of their situation, nor how to go about addressing them.

While it’s possible a child who appears to be slow in school has a learning disability, they might as easily be hungry, abused, unable to sleep due to a crying younger sibling, etc. The descriptor of slow says nothing about that child’s capabilities under optimal conditions.

So let the label act only as a signpost—a signal it’s time to investigate and eliminate barriers to learning.

Most importantly, while you go about problem-solving and analyzing, I’ve found it helpful to…

Maintain an Open, Optimistic Attitude

This point is so critical it should probably be the first and last on my list. Personally, I decided that I would never, under any circumstances, allow myself to think of Sam as slow in a derogatory sense.

Do you believe in self-fulfilling prophecies? I do. I can only think of the damage I might have done if I’d believed there was something wrong with him, with his pace or how he learned, then passed that diminished, limited view on in our interactions.

And we can’t just do it for their sake.

Stephen Covey said, “How you treat the one reveals how you regard the many, because everyone is ultimately a one.”

I believe this deeply. I also believe that how we treat the least-easy child is a signal to all the other children in that system about their relative security. Withdraw your respect and affection from one child, and all who witness your response will begin to fear the day when their own flaws are exposed and their support evaporates.

You can probably see where this is going… If these principles makes sense for the child in your mind, now turn it around to yourself. Walk your talk, or risk undermining your message.

So if you’re looking at others’ pace and feeling comparatively inadequate, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can you objectively know that you’re slow? Talk to some of your quieter colleagues about their pace and you might be surprised. (If you’re a member of the WU Facebook page, scroll down to the post initiated by Leesa Freeman for a dose of reassurance and reality.)
  2. Does it really matter how fast you write, or is it an artificial or temporary, self-resolving situation? In the long view, can you really know your pace will impede your career?
  3. Does calling yourself slow entice you to write faster?
  4. Can you see any advantages to the qualities which make you slow? How might they be strengths?
  5. Can you patiently identify and eliminate the barriers to your progress?
  6. Will you maintain an attitude of positive self-regard and expectancy throughout?
  7. Finally, is there any possible way to learn the answers to these questions without continuing to write?

Anonymous, all I know is that as I move forward, treating myself as I would a child, meeting my limitations with understanding rather than censure or disapproval, I’m happier. I’m better at identifying and removing barriers to my writing. I meet the page with less freneticism and I’m willing to sit with the discomfort of writing and persist.

On this grey winter day, I wish that for you, too.

Unboxeders, do you have any further advice for Anonymous? And if you’ve improved your writing speed while maintaining quality, how did you go about doing it?

*True of all days which end with an M. ;)

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About Jan O'Hara

Jan O'Hara left her writing dreams behind for years to practice family medicine, but has found her way back to the world of fiction. Currently the voice of the Unpublished Writer here at Writer Unboxed, she hopes one day soon to become unqualified for the position.

Comments

  1. says

    First, speed and quality have nothing to do with each other. Writing bad is an equal opportunity animal. You can write badly slow or you can write badly fast. Which means you can also write well faster.

    The first step is really just to get in front of the computer. Possibly, you might want to mark down your time to see if you’re doing it regularly. Some people write slow simply because they wait for inspiration to come. If I waited for inspiration, it would be months between sections of the story. You have to make writing a priority.

    You might try setting up a ritual to help trigger the writing. I’ve been experimenting with sitting in an easy chair, feet propped up, and a laptop — rather than an office desk. But also, look for pockets of time that might change up things for you. I take my laptop to work and write at lunch. That defined time can produce surprising results. In 45 minutes, I can do anywhere from 600-1,100 words.

    But another step is toss perfectionism out the window. Everything we see having to do with writing pushes us in the direction of perfectionism. Articles tells the “10 Things We Are Doing Wrong,” and “10 Reasons Why You’re Not Getting Published.” They reinforce the need to make each sentence perfect and write slower and slower — and ultimately, hate writing.

    Trust the process.

    Trust that you can write this story.

    So much of the writing advice is relentlessly pounded at us that we cannot trust the process, that we must be doing something wrong that can make pollute our writing. If I run into problems, I have to step back and tell myself, “Trust the process.” If I run into story problems, I have to tell myself, “Trust the story. What is it telling me?” And I have to listen.

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    • says

      Lately, when I read a craft book or an article that harangues forever on negatives, I put it down because I start to identify with every error, and that’s not a positive way to work. Too many Don’ts make for an unfinished story. It’s taken self-discipline for me to just stop reading. ;)

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      • says

        I, too, have to be careful when I read writing advice. I’m always better if I write first, then turn to the craft books when I’m stuck and my brain needs a rest from the story anyway.

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  2. Jeanne Kisacky says

    Jan, absolutely right that slow and fast are relative terms and require scrutiny. There are no standards for how much gets written in what length of time. For anyone who feels ‘slow’, I would especially suggest examining who or what is being used to establish the sense of what a ‘regular’ schedule should be, and questioning the accuracy of that barometer.

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  3. says

    Hey Jan,

    Exceptional post. That’s coming from one who has yet to graduate from glacial rate to speed-of-sloth.

    In the past, I’ve worked with developmentally disabled adults and found a treasure in every one—each a jewel in their own right, but many given up to the system by families who didn’t recognize their positives and focused on the negatives—families who bought in to the labeling system.

    Although I excelled in school, I bored quite easily. Had I not had teachers who motivated and were exceptional in their own right, I may have been a trouble maker or occupied myself with less constructive things.

    Growing up a military brat, we moved often, once in the middle of the school year. When we arrived at the new school, they were testing (specific to the curriculum taught that class, not assessment tests), and I did horribly. I was put in the “remedial” classes…easy stuff. Of course, I did well, would finish before the others and cause trouble (spitballs, paper airplanes). Instead of recognizing that I was a good student (didn’t the straight A’s tell them anything?), they focused on the spitballs and airplanes. Mike was a handful. It was two years later before I was placed in classes that challenged me, which luckily, was middle grade.

    I’m thankful there were teachers who disregarded the fact I was a “handful” and focused on my strengths (and kept me occupied).

    Today, yes, I still bore easily, however, I put that to use. I work on several different things at once…some become finished pieces, some remain in pieces. But—and this is a big but—I don’t mind at all, because by the time all is said and done and I release something for public perusal, I’m proud of the work.

    Thanks again for your article.

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    • says

      I can’t help but think that your personal experience with generous and observant teachers would have been a boon to the developmentally disabled adults you cared for. Those positive role models are so powerful.

      And thanks for a glimpse into your history, Mike. You’ve had a varied past. Good fuel for your writing!

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  4. Carmel says

    Oh, thank you, Jan, for this post. I had given myself a goal of finishing my wip by June 1st and, according to my word count goals for each day until then, I’m not going to make it. My husband and I were talking about this last night, and we both said, “What difference does it make?”

    For some reason, I can’t force my story. Each scene has to simmer and steam until I can write it. And sometimes I need to take a few days completely away from it all or the process overwhelms me.

    I’ve always known I’d never be that writer who is able to put out a book every couple years, but it’s good to hear that other people are ‘slow’ like me too. ;o)

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    • says

      It’s good to have goals, Carmel, but when we’ve done the best we can and it doesn’t pan out the way we’d planned, what comes next? Resilient people seem to spend very little time in second-guessing. The shrug their shoulders, set a new goal and dig in again. All that’s a long way of saying, bravo!

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  5. says

    I am slow. Objectively. It is due to the illness I live with (CFS).

    I have, when I get up, do everything right, and am sitting in my chair with the internet blocked, 2-4 hours worth of time I can count on my brain to turn over, to be capable of the kind of thought that produces fiction.

    It is my great joy to do that, sometimes for weeks on end, because Life is holding itself at bay.

    Other days, when things MUST be done, they get that energy, and no writing happens.

    I have a process for writing which is also slow, but compensates for my limitations, so, as soon as I can, I just go back to it. No recriminations, no writer’s block – that writing time is my safe haven, and I return to base as soon as possible.

    Worrying about it would take time and energy and provide nothing – so I don’t. I am so grateful that I can write – it is so much better than not writing.

    I don’t mind being slow – other people are alcoholics or have other problems. This is mine.

    I do love what I write – and that’s the important part, isn’t it?

    Alicia

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    • says

      What a wonderful attitude, Alicia. I’m sure Anonymous is reading these comments, but even if she doesn’t, I’m benefiting. Thank you.

      I particularly liked this bit: “No recriminations, no writer’s block – that writing time is my safe haven, and I return to base as soon as possible.
      Worrying about it would take time and energy and provide nothing – so I don’t. I am so grateful that I can write – it is so much better than not writing.”

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  6. says

    As I think you know, Boss, I come from a production background (back when I was a boss). Most everything came down to the numbers. Although there were numerous quality checks, generally speaking, the more adept each employee became, the faster they produced. And–again, very generally speaking–the faster they got the higher and more consistent the quality of their output became.

    Naturally, I brought this mindset to writing. Long before I was in any sort of writing community or read much writing advice, I was tracking my word counts. Looking back at my old calendars, even I am surprised. I was prolific, without a doubt. But a funny thing about writing–that old production adage of: “the better you get the faster you go, the higher and more consistent the quality,” well, in my experience it just doesn’t pan out for this gig.

    Everything I’ve written since that first draft has been slower. And, generally speaking, I’m on a slight downward curve. My daily output is a fraction of that of those early days. I’m certainly more cautious. Sometimes I wish I could just blithely crank out first drafts again. Other times, after spending hundreds of hours revising that first “prolifically delivered” draft, I’m grateful. I’m finding my way to my process. It’s slower and more deliberate. I’m good with it.

    Now, do we want to talk about general patience when it comes to my writing career? Perhaps that’s best saved for another post. ;-)

    Great post, Jan! You always get me thinking of things from new perspectives. Hmmm, sort of like unboxing a writer, huh?

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    • says

      Interesting, V. I didn’t track word counts when I began to write, though I recall being proud of the pages adding up. Like you, as I learned more–at least I *think* I learned more–I’ve become slower. Tracking words just doesn’t work for me. I’m more about being present in the chair and willing to write on a daily or near-daily basis.

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  7. says

    How do you eat an elephant?
    One bite at a time.

    When I’m struggling through writing or revisions I tell myself this: ONE PARAGRAPH. Write one paragraph. Revise one paragraph. Reread one paragraph. It always ends up being more, but if it didn’t, I’d still be making progress.

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    • says

      Chunking is an excellent technique. I use the timer, myself. Have a quirky, pig-shaped one which reminds me not to take myself too seriously.

      Thanks, Amy!

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  8. says

    Though normally pretty fast through the draft, I am agonizingly slow with edits. I don’t know the reason but looking into it with this next book. Every book is different, and I’m learning a LOT from one I poke at now. The words come very slowly and scenes take their sweet time forming. I’m learning to relax into it simply from experience and understanding that each is different.

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    • says

      Not to sound too new-agey, but it is what it is, right? I think it’s great that you’re self-observant and self-accepting while keeping your nose in your work.

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  9. says

    Thanks for a thoughtful post, Nan! I’ve always been fast at things. It was part of what defined me. But writing is another story. I can get the words down fast enough. I can edit them pretty fast too, but I’m finding that really getting them to where they need to be is, well, not so fast.

    It’s an iterative process, so even if each step is “fast” the sum isn’t. And boy, do I ever resist it. I keep wondering what’s wrong, even though I know nothing is wrong. Writing is teaching me more about me than I expected it to do. And I’m finding that speed isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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    • says

      “It’s an iterative process, so even if each step is “fast” the sum isn’t. And boy, do I ever resist it. I keep wondering what’s wrong, even though I know nothing is wrong. Writing is teaching me more about me than I expected it to do.”

      As you can imagine, I ran up against iceberg beliefs in medicine all the time. The stakes and the extremes meant I was constantly learning about my limitations and what I believed at a subterranean level. Writing is no different in that sense. So I hear you, Marialena. Writing is a people-growing machine.

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  10. says

    Dear Anonymous,

    Consider hiring a ghostwriter. That’s the secret formula of many (most?) of those speedsters with bestselling potboilers.

    I saw in the industry news recently a notice about a fabulous, darling, fabulous romance writer who just landed a seven-figure contract for a series featuring ooh-so-dernier-cri BDSM. I looked at her past publications list (mere curiosity, I assure you). This writer is pumping out three or four titles per year. Presumably she’s busy with her breathlessly fine research and has no time to write. (Note to self: how do I land a ghostwriting gig?)

    For the rest of us simple mortals with less fashionable topics: Patience with the incremental pace.

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    • says

      It was *eight* figures, Mary. Eight. ;)

      I don’t know about that writer, but I have a good number of friends who write competent and emotional fiction and put out more than one book a year. Many of them have had a writing background–journalism, etc.–so have done their 10,000 hours, and then some.

      But I hear you. SOME of that productivity is ghostwriting, though I suspect it’s less than we imagine.

      ETA: In the end, though, comparison is destructive. We have to work with what we’ve got, right?

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  11. says

    Thank you, Jan, for this wonderful analogy of writing speed and a child labeled “slow”. I totally agree with your observations and they “mean” something to me. How well we write should have nothing to do with speed OR anyone else’s standard for writing progress. In the long (or short) run, what we put down on the page is what matters and not how fast we write it down.
    Patti

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    • says

      I’m glad if it helped, Patti. I do know, and I’m sure you’d agree, that readers don’t care if a writer agonized over a book for five years versus five months. They judge it on it’s own merits.

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  12. says

    Does calling yourself slow entice you to write faster?

    Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. Unless I’m throwing names/labels at myself because they are usually counterproductive.

    Can you see any advantages to the qualities which make you slow? How might they be strengths?

    Yes. I think writing slowly can make the story richer much like a soup or stew simmering over a low flame is enhanced over time.

    Can you patiently identify and eliminate the barriers to your progress?

    This is one of my goals for 2014.

    Thanks so much for this post, Jan. Count me among those who look forward to reading your slow-cooked stories.

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    • says

      I do love the metaphor of the slow-food movement when it comes to writing speed. Thank you, T. And I’m expecting great things for you in 2014.

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  13. says

    I learned the hard way that there is no correlation between the speed at which one writes and the product on the page. I was working with Grisham on a novel (he offered to mentor me) and since he writes 5-6 pages a day, I was inspired to keep to that pace. Though I seldom got 5 pages, I averaged about 3 but when I finished the first draft, he dinged me for just about everything. It was not until I wrote a book about writing with him that I realized I’d been a speed demon and hadn’t held to the concepts and teachings he’d imparted to me. So I went back into the novel and took it slow and easy, redid it completely and now its being published. So my takeaway is: speed kills good writing so take your own sweet time.

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    • says

      Now that you’ve had a chance to internalize his feedback, Tony, will be interesting to see if your speed picks up. Not that it matters. I think we’re all agreeing the quality is more important than the quantity.

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  14. says

    It’s nice to know I’m not the only writer working at a snail’s pace. I’m currently reading Brene’ Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, in an effort to be more accepting of my process.

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    • says

      Brene Brown is awesome. We had a schedule conflict, but I almost got to interview her about shame, perfectionism, and writing. Would have been a fabulous time.

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  15. says

    My wife will announce, at least once a year, that she is making a Christmas quilt. To which I’ll reply, at risk of great bodily harm, which Christmas? I’m no better with my writing. I’ll make lots of promises to complete two novels at the beginning of the year, even plan out how many words I’ll have to write per day to make that happen. But then my boss insists I show up to work. My dog whines over his toys until I agree to a game of (his version of) fetch. My wife announces that if anyone wants dinner, I’d better choose a restaurant. These things have a way of cutting into word count (fact is, I hate the word count goal…somebody post a blog about that). But none of us are super-writers. We get tired. We write two hundred pages of unpublishable drivel. Our dog wants to play. Write one thousand words per day. One hundred. Ten. Who cares? It doesn’t really matter which Christmas you present the quilt. The person receiving it just thinks it’s beautiful. One keystroke at a time.

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    • says

      “To which I’ll reply, at risk of great bodily harm, which Christmas?”

      Now that we’ve established you’re an adrenaline junkie, we can talk about your points. ;)

      Do you really not care, Ron? That’s interesting. Personally, I don’t think I ever won’t care, but I don’t want to “mind”. There’s a middle way between setting rigid goals which don’t respect one’s limitations and process, and being completely flexible and willing to let the writing get pushed aside. I’m not saying I’ve reached that middle ground consistently, but when I do, it seems the best of both worlds. However, your mileage may vary.

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  16. says

    Oh, I do love you! For the longest time I’ve been frustrated with myself and my writing speed. I completely get slow-as-sloth. I’d read about people writing 10,000 words in a week (sometimes in one day!) and feel jealous and like I couldn’t keep up. Your statement “slow for who” is so appropriate! I’ve been making peace with my own speed (and process, for that matter) over the last 6-8 months, and have made some nice gains, but “slow for who” totally reinforces that each and every person is unique and embracing who we are (be it as a writer, the speed at which we write, or even that we like to fangirl over Tom Hiddleston) will give us a whole lot more peace and lead to more creativity than fighting to be like the herd. :)

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    • says

      I don’t know about you, but I always glom onto Barbara O’Neal’s posts here. For all her productivity, I hear only respect for and knowledge of her process in her writing. I can’t help but think they are related.

      Wishing you peace with your process!

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  17. says

    A cautionary tale: For my second novel, I enrolled in a class called “Fast Drafting.” We were expected to churn out 20 pages a day and have a 70,000 word first draft completed in one month. The revisions would then be completed in the second month.

    There were many people in my workshop who accomplished the goal!

    But at the end of that month, I only had 30,000 words (none of which were anywhere up to my regular writing quality), and a sense of complete defeat.

    My story had not had the time I needed to allow it to unfold, and I just wrote down anything I could think of. My brilliant idea was a garbled mess. I knew all of it would have to be rewritten completely, as opposed to just revised, tightened, enhanced, etc.

    I keep hearing about authors who turn out three and four novels a year. I had to take a close look at why that appealed to me so much, why I was so anxious to write the whole thing in a month, revise it in the second month, and get it into print… and that was pretty revealing too, so I got various gifts from this experience.

    It’s taken me over six weeks to get my novel back on track. I am now back to writing the way I write; whether that would be considered fast or slow, I have no idea. But I do know that it is satisfying, the story is moving along nicely, and I am again loving my own process.

    And I think that is the key: knowing, embracing, and coming to love your own process. Otherwise, why write?

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    • says

      That might also have to do with the process employed by the class. It may not have been a good fit for you to start with. I tried one of those book in 30 days things and wound up with a mess of a book — it turned out the author had never published a fiction book before and she used a lot of techniques rooted in outlining. I’ve come to realize those any outlining techniques don’t work with my process at all.

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    • says

      “I keep hearing about authors who turn out three and four novels a year. I had to take a close look at why that appealed to me so much, why I was so anxious to write the whole thing in a month, revise it in the second month, and get it into print… and that was pretty revealing too, so I got various gifts from this experience.”

      Absolutely, Leslie. In a comment I made above, I called this the discovery of iceberg beliefs. It’s always good to know those suckers are in the water, so while your class experience might not have been a win at one level, no doubt it freed you in another.

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  18. says

    Your story and the truths you shared about your journey with “Sam” resonated with me. I first encountered labeling with my oldest daughter. Her first-grade teacher wanted her on Ritalin. Yet, she’s a child who will sit with a book or pencil and paper for hours at end lost in her own world. I ignored the teacher and involved my daughter in conversations about the books and other things she cares about. The next year, her teacher said, “This is a girl who marches to the beat of her own drum. I give her extra projects and she flies through. Her creativity and compassion are to be commended.”

    I will always love that teacher and remembered her as my son came along and we had speech and developmental teachers come into our home and work with him. They are wonderful people and instead of focusing on the possibility that he may fall on the Autism spectrum, they recognized his unique perceptions and gifts. Now, he’s a talker and has several friends at the preschool he attends. He has areas that still spotlight a possibility that he falls on the spectrum, but we observe him doing these amazing things and we feel strongly that regardless of any spectrum or label, he’s just this amazing person.

    My middle child some might call “normal” or a “born leader” but I think through witnessing the challenges the others have faced, she’s confident in embracing who she is- a “Tom Girl” who also loves crazy socks, football jerseys, and giggling with her friends over boys.

    I learn so much from them and particularly with my son (only because I began writing after he was born), for the most part I’ve taken those lessons and applied them to my writing. There’s no slow or fast, no right or wrong process, or, rather, discovering what process works for me. The Buddhists have a saying, “The path and the goal are one.” Not to say I never beat myself over the head or wallow in angst, but it is a learning curve.

    Great post. As you see, your insights provoked my own. You know you’ve done something fabulous when that happens. The whole chain reaction and ripple in the pond theories. Thank you.

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    • says

      What a heartening story, Tonia. Sounds like your children have benefited from some wonderful advocacy on your part, and the part of the healthcare workers.

      Have you read, SPARK, by chance? Fantastic book. I suspect you’d find it relevant.

      As for this: ‘The Buddhists have a saying, “The path and the goal are one.”’ Yes. The older, I get, the more essential this philosophy in my life.

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  19. says

    I read this advice to the ‘disconsolate writer’ with great interest. I am working with a wonderful natural writer right now who’s having problems with grounding her writing, and in writing for the unknown reader. In fact she directed me here.
    I’ve never had problems getting my ideas into shape. This article has made me realize I’m one of the lucky ones.
    Now I can approach HER problem with more patience and understanding, and with endless examples to prove a point until she picks it up for herself.
    I know she can do it ~ and when she does, Look out world!

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    • says

      Well, what wonderful feedback, and how fortunate that your student knows what she needs and that you’re willing to excavate it. Good luck to you both!

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  20. says

    This post was great – keen, articulate and reassuring. I don’t get criticized for my writing speed, but I am a “pantser” and many other (more experienced) writers have knocked me for it. Even when I write something that seems to receive praise, in the next breath I’m being reminded to plot out things and have a plan and think before I write. If I’m writing well, what difference does it make HOW I’m writing? Is there any one right way to create art? I don’t think so… Thanks for letting us all know that there are other accepting writers and creators out there, and that there is nothing wrong with us.

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    • says

      One thing about WU, Lis, is that we’ve got pantsters, plotters, and plotsters in the crowd of the multi-published authors and readers. (Not me.) Obviously, to create that amount of content, different processes work for different folk. So if you see us discussing process here, and we try to convert one another to a different viewpoint, it’s more like a quarrel among siblings; the point might be to push buttons rather than create change. ;)

      Keep on keeping on. If your process works, don’t let anyone pathologize it.

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  21. says

    Don’t feel bad, Jan. I’m currently completing books at approximately the same rate at which the US changes presidents. Here’s to us both having something done before the next one is inaugurated.

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  22. Alisha Rohde says

    Wonderful post, Jan–I always love your posts! And I am thoroughly enjoying the comments, too. Lots of wisdom and perspective all around.

    The child analogy made me recall that I was never a child who liked to be hurried AT ALL: I was quick enough academically, but found it hard to finish eating my lunch in time during first grade. And those timed math tests they foisted on us in elementary school (circa ’70s) were sheer torture–my brain would just freeze up. I’ve even had bosses try and push me to work faster, which always backfires. I didn’t actually miss deadlines, they just had to leave me alone and not micromanage.

    So as a writer, I’ve known this about myself, and I still sometimes try and push myself to speed up. Like those bosses, I found it backfired–and then I “dropped out” of NaNoWriMo last fall and went back to novel prep work and life went on. :-) Several months later, I see I wasn’t quite ready to draft and the characters are in much better shape now–though still evolving.

    So much of finding and embracing my process requires giving myself permission to use and do what I already know–and smile at myself when I figure it out. I see I’m not alone on that front in the WU community–not surprised, either!

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    • says

      “So much of finding and embracing my process requires giving myself permission to use and do what I already know–and smile at myself when I figure it out.”

      EXactly, Alisha. I’m glad you’re finding a supportive community while you’re at it. :)

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  23. says

    I can certainly understand when she is coming from. I am working on my debut novel now. I have been researching it and trying to plot it for about a year and a half. I’ve attempted to try writing, realized I didn’t know where I was going and went back to square one. While in college I did some writing, mainly short stories. This was way back, before the internet, when things were done by snail mail. I never sent anything in, and then gave up on my writing dreams until after retiring, so I had a lot to learn. I have been reading up on the craft, (I never finished college) and feel inadequate in many ways. It seems most authors have a degree in something, whether it is in writing or literature or not. Sometimes I wonder if I am lacking something or if I’m having a harder time than others. I am not giving up this time, but I do get discouraged.

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    • says

      Rebecca, do a search about MFAs on this blog, and I think you’ll find a consensus that they are unnecessary for a writing career. (Even as some find them helpful.)

      I have a similar story, in that I took a many-year break between when I wrote as a child and adolescent, then took it up as an adult. That practice of self-denial can be both habitual and hard to conquer. I’m glad you’ve dug in! If that should change and you’ve done all you can on your own, my suggestion would be to get outside help. (Classes, book coaches, communities, psychologists, etc.) We only have this one life, and it isn’t endless. Your needs and desires count!

      /unwanted advice. ;)

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  24. says

    It’s been a busy day with kids’ archery tournament, and I am so happy to have read your post and the many helpful comments. I find that my pace goes up significantly when I’m under deadline and have a contract to fulfil. Quality does not suffer. I do better under pressure, but I cannot trick my brain into it. Off to scribble a few notes before I retire.

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  25. says

    I’m an older person who writes at her own pace and I’m learning as I go. I had a degree in education, not English, and worked for many years as a 1st and 2nd Grade teacher. I don’t believe in rushing myself or anyone else. When my son was in school I knew he was intelligent, but he only made an effort if it was a subject he liked. In high school he often didn’t even do his homework. I never pressured him because I knew my brother and I had both been “late bloomers”. Sure enough, he took a year off between high school and college, and when he went back to school and was working and paying for it himself, he made all “A’s”. He first worked part-time and went to Community College. When, in his third year he entered a small private college, he won two scholarships. He was attending college full-time and working part-time. He continued to make “A’s”. He didn’t need to take a loan and his education is fully paid for. I would NEVER pressure and rush a child or myself!

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    • says

      Your the sort of teacher who makes school bearable for the late bloomers and the disengaged, PS. Thank you! It’s a critical role. I’m fortunate in that “Sam” had more than a few of your sort in his life.

      And I’m delighted to hear you’re as gentle with yourself as you were with your students.

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  26. says

    Vulnerability such as yours makes for memorable posts.

    As for the slow reader, though I was reading when I hit first grade, my daughter didn’t read until 9th (yes ninth!) She was bright as hell and a fabulous artist, so I let that be the paradigm she lived in. Knowing it was essential, though, to learn to read by adulthood, I sat her in my lap (then next to me) year after year while we cracked the code of abstract signs. (Letters, words and meaning–sounds familiar, right?) I’m here to report that she is now a brilliant teacher in a foreign country and language is her specialty. It’s her doing, all I did was hold her hat. Everyone moves as they take the world in (and yes, that is new-agey.)

    As a younger guy, I suffered from being the high achiever, suffered so badly that I leapt into meditation and finally started seeing the forest (and the mountains.) How that translates to my writing: First I have no idea what fast IS or what medium IS. Second, like my daughter, I am committed to/stuck in THIS body for this incarnation. Oh, well! . . . Third I’ve relaxed into the attitude that writing is words on a page–not even, any more, just digits on a chip–and they have so little worth in and of themselves. AND if I write today’s scene tomorrow, it will be completely different. They both might be great or both might suck. So lastly, to humor myself, I see writing a novel as akin to painting (or building) The Golden Gate Bridge: those dedicated souls are up there all the time. They start at one end and scratch their way across every friggin’ inch of metal and when they’re done, they go back to the other end and start agin. Sounds like drafting, doesn’t it? The good thing is the Gold Gate is beautiful and important, and like those painters, I intend for all my work to be so.

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    • says

      Wow, Tom, your daughter’s story is an incredible journey of love, hope and endurance. I wish every “slow” reader could know of it. And how interesting that what was once her vulnerability is now a strength. I imagine her ability to persevere will stand her in good stead.

      And with your philosophy, you would seem to be doing the same. :) Thank you for sharing.

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  27. says

    I have variable speeds–none of them very fast, but there are certainly scenes I seem to be able to write relatively quickly and others that seem to take waaay to long. I think I’ve discovered that when I’m in a boggy spot in my writing, more often than not, I’m not ready to write that scene yet. I’m better off either working on some other area, or if need be just put the project on hold while i do some laundry or take a shower or walk the dog. I’m much happier if I can keep myself away from the computer until I cannot WAIT to get that scene (or just piece of a scene) down. Then the writing feels fast and is a relief rather than feeling like I’m boring myself as I struggle along trying to force words onto the page.

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    • says

      There’s nothing like that feeling of urgency, is there, Melissa? I’ve learned to trust it, too, because those moments often birth my best work or insights. I think it’s fabulous that you know and work with your process.

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  28. says

    Great post. I remember a student, years ago, who was labelled special ed. While there’s nothing wrong with special ed., I feel there may be something wrong with saying this particular kid was special ed. because she was bad at math. Specifically, it said she couldn’t synthesize the symbols as number equivalents, and therefore couldn’t do the math. Funny thing is, her grade in ELA was very good, and isn’t that what reading is–recognizing that the symbol C and the symbol A and the symbol T all go together to spell cat, and then realizing what animal that word correlates with? If she can synthesize the letters well enough to spell and read well, which she could, then she could have done the same for the numbers in math class. This kid told me she cried during a meeting because they made her feel “slow.” She wasn’t, and the diagnosis may have been wrong, to boot. She was just bad at math, partly because she didn’t like it. Sometimes it seems like nobody’s allowed to be “bad” at anything anymore, at least without a label.

    In the same way, am I a “slow” producer because I’m not as productive as, say, Joyce Carol Oates or Stephen King? I can certainly try to stick to a more consistent writing schedule, but maybe I’ve been beating myself up for being “too slow,” when maybe I’m actually doing the best I can, given my present set of circumstances. And beating myself up for feeling “slow” certainly has not helped me produce more.

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    • says

      “Sometimes it seems like nobody’s allowed to be “bad” at anything anymore, at least without a label.”

      I agree, Steven. We’ve gotten far in certain sciences by thinking along the lines of pathology–about the wrongness of things and how we can go about correcting them. But I think we’ve neglected the other side, which is building upon strengths. When it comes to people and psychological struggles and how they think of themselves, IMHO that’s a vital distinction, because one facilitates agency and the other robs us of it.

      I’d also agree with your last statement. I’ve tried it, also, and it doesn’t work! Can I recommend a book to you that may persuade you to change your approach? Check out The 7 Secrets of the Prolific by Hillary Rettig. And best of luck getting that devil off your shoulder!

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  29. says

    Dear Jan, Thank you for the pleasure of reading your article. What really hit home was “to learn how to round off our square corners to become a round pet” You could have no idea how much I have resisted, when I should have totally rejected this requirement, throughout my long life. And, my long and varied experience with children and even babies and toddlers who have been labeled. It isn’t easy to fight against labels that could and do impact on the child’s self-esteem and how she or he is in the eyes of others, who seem to expect a rigid learning curve.
    Perhaps society could use your insight (instead of Insite) to help adults with problems adapting to social norms. There are intelligent people, and people with soul (sometimes together) who have come into my life from Vancouver’s notorious Downtown-East Side). They face discrimination and rejection, not because of what they are trying to become but because of the path they had been on. In some cases their desire to care about and for themselves and their neighbours far exceeds those who would reject them.
    Again, thank you.
    Jean

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    • says

      Thank YOU, Jean. You sound like an inordinately compassionate person. In the interest of complete disclosure, I have my own biases and prejudices, must fight to be fair to people and assess them on their own merits, especially in unfamiliar situations. I’m not sure I’d consistently manage that in your geographic location, though I’d like to believe I would have that goodness in me. I’m so glad to be in a world with models like you.

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  30. says

    Jan, I haven’t been to WU in a long time and stumbled upon your post today. I, too, struggle so deeply over this issue and probably don’t help the situation by comparing myself to a world of writers who “seem” to be more successful. It breeds an unfortunate strain of anxiety, which leads to paralysis and long spells between blog posts and tweets. Thanks for your helpful advice!

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    • says

      I hear you, Jillian. And if it’s not too personal a gestures, I’ll offer you hugs for the self-doubt and comparison-monster.

      You can see you’re not alone in the struggle!

      I have two suggestions, if I may: The first is to look at the times when you *are* writing. What are you doing differently? How are you acting or thinking? What strengths are you using in those times, because the spark is there; it just needs to be nurtured. Secondly, I’ll recommend you read The 7 Secrets of the Prolific by Hillary Rettig. It’s concrete, actionable, and hopeful.

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