I’ve been thinking about the pace of writing lately. Not the pacing within a story, but how quickly I actually compose the words.
When I first began “seriously” writing, way back in ’99, I was terribly indulgent with my time. I had to get in the mood and find inspiration. Often it would take me half an hour before I’d even begun to put words together.
Then I got married, and soon after the kids arrived, and along with the wife and offspring came the pressure of making enough money to eat something other than instant ramen. I got a decent-paying day job and tried to be a good spouse and father, and suddenly there was very little time for writing. So I had to throw out all the indulgent, mood-making, inspiration-finding nonsense and just write every time I had a spare moment. On the bus, in the waiting room at the dentist, wherever. There was no “finding inspiration” or a “sacred space for creation” or any of that. I did what I could, when I could. And I think that was really for the best. Over the course of several years, it trained me out of my indulgence and fostered a great deal of discipline.
Then I started writing full time and my circumstances changed again. Excepting holidays and vacations, I have an allotted time to write while the boys are at school. It’s wonderful. My initial thoughts were chiefly, “Now I can relax after the boys are in bed instead of writing until I can’t keep my eyes open!” And that’s certainly true. I have been enjoying actual relaxation in the evenings like a proper human being. But still I would be butt-in-seat for six hours per day, cranking it out, no excuses, because dammit I wasn’t going to revert back to that self-indulgent sap I was in my twenties. I thought I was writing efficiently because I was writing quickly.
And then I screwed up my back. Badly. I’ve mentioned it a few times in the newsletter, trying to keep it light and make my trips to the physical therapist amusing. But the truth is, I was in constant pain, and it was at its worst when I sat down at a desk to write for long periods of time. At best, I could sit for an hour before the pain made it impossible to concentrate on what I was doing. I had to accept that for the time being, I could no longer write like a maniac for hours at a stretch. I had to write in smaller increments, with lots of breaks. I was horrified because I was certain my productivity would go to hell.
But something unexpected happened. When I slowed down and took my time, I found that I was able to anticipate plot issues and character development gaps before they even appeared on the page. I’m sure that comes from the experience I’ve accrued from writing seven published novels, three that will never be published, and honestly I don’t even know how many sample chapters for projects that never sold and probably never will. But all that experience wasn’t doing me a damn bit of good until I slowed down enough to heed it.
And now I find that my productivity hasn’t actually diminished much, because by allowing myself the time to consider things as I write them, there is far less that I need to go back and fix later. What’s more, I feel significantly more confident in the quality of what I’ve written (which admittedly could just be me convincing myself, but hopefully not).
There is a larger lesson to be learned here. I’m certain of it. I haven’t figured out what it is yet, but thought I’d offer it you all in this first week of the new year. Maybe we should all slow down a bit this year, take our time, and consider things more thoughtfully.
Happy New Year,
p.s. For those who were concerned, the cat survived her attempt to eat Christmas and is recovering nicely. The hilarious "Elizabethan" collar she's been forced to wear for the last couple weeks to keep her from messing with her stitches will finally come off this Friday, once the vet pronounces it safe. And she'll have a pretty cool scar with which to impress everyone.