What’s the rush?

In the last post, I briefly addressed the dragging of feet that can go along with finishing your work or getting it out into the world. We cannot know if success will come quickly, after many years or not at all. All we can to is to try to be prepared and that means making the work and ourselves the best we can.

There’s another way to defeat yourself and that is rushing work out. NaNoWriMo can teach you to just write and write fast. Very fast. There’s huge benefit in that. Clean out the system, prove to yourself you can be far more productive than you imagined, discovering that your characters have things to say in scenes that may not make it to the next draft, but give you valuable information on who they are and so on.

Sometimes you need to slow down. Examine the work, your process…. That can mean slowing down to play with the story. Whether you write fast or slow, it is important to honor your own process once you land on it, but be aware it may change from piece to piece or book to book. What is important about not rushing is not rushing the work out into the world. We tend to believe we’ve written THE BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD as soon as it’s done. It takes perseverance to write over seventy thousand words for a novel. Talent aside, it’s a lot of work! You feel you should be rewarded – at least appreciated – and that’s fine, but don’t act on it, not until you’ve had more eyeballs on your manuscript. Reward yourself in other ways and take the time to make sure your work is ready to send out.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to have at least one great mentor and to surround yourself with talented writers, preferably ones who will tell you the truth. And one or two non-writers as well. Ask a few people to read it before you start querying agents. This does not apply if you’re, say, Jonathan Safran Foer with Joyce Carol Oates as your advisor on your senior thesis. There are exceptions. Now back to real life!

Pay an editor to go through it and make sure it is free from errors and that it flows. Get both specific and global notes. Check the punctuation and do not rely on spell check. Look at the overall structure – do sequences make sense? Is there a strain of a theme that gets lost halfway through? I will give you an example. I had a very talented editor give me notes on WRESTLING ALLIGATORS. She pointed out that I made an allusion to the Daedalus-Icarus myth at the beginning that was then not explored in the rest of the text. It was a challenge, but in one of the subsequent passes (after I’d dealt with her other points), I spent a fair amount of time walking in the hills trying to come up with an answer and finally found it. It enriched the manuscript in a way I never expected and I would have not found it on my own. If I had rushed the manuscript out, that piece would have not been addressed and I would have missed the growth I experienced in that challenge. I really enjoyed solving the problem and discovering a way to solve it will benefit future work.

There are many things about the writing life that are challenging and one is the balance you have to strike between knowing when to go fast and when to slow down. Have you ever wish you’d taken more time before sending work out? Or do you have a triumph about taking your time?

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4 thoughts on “What’s the rush?

  1. I’ve written both ways – quickly, and slowly. I’m a professional writer and there have been times when I’ve had to write something quickly because of a deadline. I once had about a week to do a page one rewrite on a three hour film that was about to start shooting. That became a job that involved writing around the clock, day and night. My writing didn’t suffer but the relationships in my life did. Unless you have someone waiting for pages (with a paycheck in hand), it helps the balance in your life to move through your writing with an even pace. Give yourself time to experience life while you’re also writing about it.

  2. Sadly, I am extremely diligent about rushing the manuscript into the hands of publishers too soon and I have several dozens of rejections to prove it. I’m a writer who often takes many months and often up to two years to polish a story or essay to the point where it’s ready to be seen. When I don’t invest that reflective and thoughtful time, the writing suffers. If feels brittle and desperate. The ending feels abrupt and my dialogue cliche. It lacks the profound ache that it needs. If it’s picked up prematurely by a publisher, I rarely feel inspired to keep improving it. I don’t do NaNoWriMo because the words may come fast, but for me the fast words suck. I am no binge writer, although I have friends who are. I often have breakthroughs in my stories when I am running up Griffith Park mountain or am absolutely quiet and still. I’m three years into a memoir that I am sure will undergo another brutal facelift (or ten) before it sees the light of day. I also depend on writers I admire to give me their input and feedback on a regular basis. I hope to become a quicker study who can churn out gems in a sitting or actually have a decent draft in one month, but I also see the value in slower and more patient writing.

  3. I love that you walked the hills until you found the answer, as well as the growth experience that you would have missed had you rushed the novel out. I’m too much of a slowpoke (otherwise known as a perfectionist, the one who never gets done – ) to rush my stuff out, but your points are well taken. Especially the “hire a good editor” part.

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