December 6, 2012

NaNo Wrap-up, Part 2: Can Slow Writers Win Too?

Giant tortoise with text: Can "Slow" Writers Win Too?

Whether we officially “won” NaNoWriMo or not, most of us who participated probably racked up higher than normal daily word counts. And building on my previous NaNo wrap-up post, that success can carry over into other areas of our writing life.

Author Roni Loren and I have talked several times about our “slow” writing style. How we never truly turn off our internal editor—even during word sprints or fast drafting.

Slow writers often despair when we hear about authors releasing two, three, or even four books a year. We’d never be able to do that.

Training Ourselves to Write More

What’s a slow writer to do? Roni had a great blog post last month about how she learned to “train up” and fit more writing into a shorter time frame. Because of that training, she was able to complete multiple books this year.

That training isn’t necessarily about writing more words per hour, although word sprint techniques can certainly help. Instead, that training can be about using our time more effectively, so we have more writing time in a day than we thought. Or it can be about pushing ourselves to get more writing in before our brain or our muse gives out. Or it can be about limiting that internal editor to chime in only on today’s writing.

Slow Writers Are the Tortoise

In my NaNo Check-In at the halfway point, I compared writing to the Aesop fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. Some of us are the slow-writing tortoise and some of us are the fast-writing hare. As long as we all reach our personal finish line, there’s no wrong answer.

My NaNo stats could never look like these of one of my hare-like NaNo Writing Buddies (name withheld to protect their fuzzy tail):

I didn’t have any word sprint counts of 1500-2500 words an hour (like many of my friends), and I didn’t have any 10-15K writing days (like some of my other friends). Instead, I simply showed up every day and added words, slow and steady like the tortoise:

Again, there’s no right or wrong answer. We have to know ourselves and how we write best. The point is that slow writers—as long as we’re writing consistently—can get things done just as well as fast writers.

Are Slow Writers Able to Write Multiple Books a Year?

So this brings us back to the multiple books a year question. We’ve heard that one key to success in publishing is creating a backlist. A backlist sounds great in theory—more books to sell! But if it takes us a year to complete each book, it’ll be a decade before we see that backlist in action.

For a long time, “a year” is what I figured I’d need to write a book. The fastest I’d ever completed a first draft was three months. And I thought that was “pushing” myself. But my NaNo approach of writing every day forced me to accept that no, I really hadn’t been pushing myself before.

So now I know. Now I know that I can cut that three-months-to-a-first-draft time in half, which opens up more possibilities for publishing. I still don’t think I’ll ever be one of these four-full-length-novels-a-year writers. But two is certainly doable. Maybe even three novels, or two novels and a novella or two.

Now I know that the number of books I could complete in a year is more determined by my need for family and home life balance than by my drafting speed. I was able to keep up with most of my normal home life during NaNo, but I did stay up past midnight more often than I’d like.

Now I know that I’m in control of that multiple-books-a-year side of the publishing equation, and that I’m not constrained by being a “slow” writer. This is a good thing to know. *smile*

Are you a “slow” writer? Are you more successful writing hare-style or tortoise-style? Have you worried about how you’d write multiple books a year or be able to build up a backlist? Do you have other “slow writer” tips to share?

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Cat York

Totally slow this year. Didn’t used to be … I’ve always been able to write 2000 word a day when I wanted to, but I’m starting to realize that doesn’t mean I produce compelling stuff. I’ve never been happy with my finished work and I usually abandon scripts in the rewrite phase. I my current MS has had a more successful path because I used a different approach to my first and second drafts and now, as I rewrite the beginning and middle of the story for the 4th time … I’m feeling the need to obsess over tension and foreshadowing, careful what I reveal in dialogue, finding the exact right wording for descriptions. This stuff takes time and I’m lucky if I rehash 1000 words a day! LOL. Three or four books a year. Probably not going to be that kind of writer. 🙂


NaNoWriMo was an epic fail for me. Some deadlines blindsided me, then family decided last-minute to come visit, then I got sick (restaurant screwed up my meal and I got fed something that I’m allergic to), then my family stayed in town longer than I’d expected, then I stayed sick, then I got a migraine…

That pretty much sums up November.

But that’s okay. I’m focusing on not being overwhelmed by what isn’t done and on trying to force myself to write at least a little each weekday, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. I did a blog post a while ago pointing out how even slowpokes can get more done than they might expect.

I mean, even if I average 15 minutes per weekday, that’s 65k words per year. A lot less than I want to write, but I have to start somewhere.

Can’t get overwhelmed. If I let myself look at too large a chunk and get overwhelmed, I won’t get anything done.


I’ve always known I was a slow writer, and although NaNo has shown me I can write more quickly if I have a good outline in front of me, it’s still the revision stage that’s going to slow me down. I’d be absolutely estatic if I could finish one book a year. Heck, I’d be happy if I could do one every two years. Maybe my revising speed will pick up with practice, but I’m not too hopeful. I’m very much the slow and steady type.

AJ Bradley

I am a tortoise too: In NaNo, I was consistently under par by about 2k words. But I didn’t rush myself, or berate myself. I just wrote. Every day. A little bit more.

And the 50k I wrote in NaNo only makes up about 60% of my WIP. I’ve been “working on it” since 2011.

Now, I’m about 20k words away from “The End” and then it’s revisioning. I can’t IMAGINE how long that will take. 😉

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

I would definitely be the tortoise style, because I think writing a good amount every day is very important to completing projects. You can be surprisingly productive even if you write just a few sentences every day, seriously. When holidays come around though, I go from doing a little every day to doing a lot every day. 😀 Just because I love writing more than anything, and I always can’t wait to see what will happen to my beloved protagonists next! Hmm, I always thought I was one of the “fast writers”, but wow, 4 novels a year?! I took 2.5 years to finish the first draft of my 440 page novel and I already thought I was fast. XD But maybe it does depend on how much time the writer has. A full time writer has tons more time than a full time university student, to be realistic. However, Nanowrimo has proven that even as a university student, I can do better. I can definitely manage about 2000 words every day, and I will finish my novel before June 30 to publish it! *Determined fist pump* Cool, I’ve never heard about a back list until now. (I know, I’m woefully ignorant. 🙁 It’s also here that I’ve first learned the term “pantsers”.) But the idea of a backlist sounds awesome! Having one certainly makes you feel competent and accomplished. Of course, quantity isn’t better than quality, but quantity still makes you feel good.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

I’m so slow I make the tortoise look fast 🙂
However, I agree with you when you say, “The point is that slow writers—as long as we’re writing consistently—can get things done just as well as fast writers.”
I’m alot like you, also, in that I’ve never been able to truly shut off my internal editor. The darn thing is locked and loaded even when I’m writing a comment to a blog post, or sending texts, or Facebooking or Tweeting…it’s very irritating.
And if you want my opinion, I think your “slow but steady” chart looks much more productive than the speedy Gonzalez one 🙂
Thank you for putting a PIN IT button on your blog. I love saving your
Have a great evening!!

Chihuahua Zero

I barely won NaNoWriMo, contrasting with how I passed 50k on the 25th last year. Really, I’m still working out my writing pace, but I’m trying to lean toward the fast side, with getting my tasks done, and managing my time well.

Marcy Kennedy

I’m a slow writer too. One benefit I’ve noticed, though, from co-writing with a fast writer is that if you set a slow writer’s first draft down next to a fast writer’s first draft, the slow writer’s work is closer to final form. In other words, if we really compared two works of the same quality, one by a fast writer and one by a slow writer, and figured out how long each took them, I think you’d see the total time was the same. I think sometimes speed can sacrifice quality, so I’d much rather put out one or two really strong books a year than four average books.


Actually, that depends on the writer. I know writers who are the reverse—the slow writer needs more after-work than the fast writer.

Total time can end up the same, but it doesn’t necessarily.

Roni Loren

Thanks for the shout out. As you mentioned, I considered myself a “slow” writer because I’m not one of those people who can race through a draft without looking back. However, I have gone from writing 1-1.5 novels a year to 3 this year (roughly 95k each) including rewrites/revisions/copyedits/etc. It’s been a revelation really, that I can write at this pace. I still edit some as I go but make notes for the bigger things and wait until I’m done with the draft. And it’s built my confidence. For instance, I have another 50k to write by Feb. 1 and I’m like–yep, can do that. Last year, I would’ve panicked at that deadline.

So I think most important is to never say “can’t” and “never” because you won’t if you convince yourself it’s not possible, that you’re not like “those writers over there”. Writing “fast” for me only means writing about 2k a day. At that rate, it’s manageable but means you can write a complete full-length draft in two months. And yes, I’ve had a 4k day here and there, but I don’t *need* to have 10-12k like the hare. My 2k a day will get me there just the same. 🙂

Denise D. Young

I have wondered that very thing. It frustrates me that I can’t write 10K in a day the way some of my friends can, but I also realize that as long as I write a little bit every day, that’s okay. I think one of the most poisonous thoughts for our writing and creative practice is comparing our process to someone else’s and wondering why we can’t write as much or the way that they do. Each of us needs to find our own path. And hey, even a first draft in three months is pretty darn good! I think mine is more like six months or a year. Great post, Jami! 🙂


I’m like you –I didn’t have any 10,000 word days during NaNo last month. On most days I logged between 1500 and 2,000 words. There were some times I played catch-up and typed as much as 5,000 or so in a day.

For me, I could spend all day every day editing –it’s a totally different process. But generating new material? I think it would be rushed and crappy if I wrote more than that. I am so not a “hare.”

But…I definitely think you’re right about the whole idea of the “tortoise” being able to produce a lot. I realized during NaNo that I could pretty comfortably write 1500-2000 words a day. Which honestly means I could write probably 6 books a year. That’s pretty wild!


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