slowpoke: how to write faster

August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Slate article here.

I have friends who tell me that after returning from an eight-hour workday, they run a few miles, shower, and then write three thousand words before dinnertime. Equally punchable are friends who break the 50K Nanowrimo sound barrier with days left to go, and, not being content with downing gallons of victory champagne and collapsing facefirst onto their beds to sleep the rest of the month away, proceed to add another 150K to their already massive txt files, because obviously, 50K was just the beginning. (I love you guys but that’s unreal.)

Essentially: Article talks about “flow”, and how sentences are generated in a burst-pause-evaluate, burst-pause-evaluate pattern, with more experienced writers producing longer word bursts. Writing is difficult, requiring an exertion of mental effort on par with playing a octave-scaling sonatina with your dexterous hand pinioned behind your back and your feet occupied in a game of cat’s cradle … When you’re at it, you’re weighing the actual text, what you plan to say next, and how your imagined reader will interpret what’s there; the act of it is difficult because your mind is juggling many components at once. In answer to its own titular question, article points the way to the “usual” tactics: minimizing distractions in your environment, writing daily, keeping your emotions in check, and setting realistic goals. Also, limiting the time you spend each day on creative efforts.


1) The burst-pause-evaluate pattern is exactly right, except I’m much slower than almost everyone I know (Becca “hey Danica I nonchalantly wrote 6,000 words yesterday night and then built a functioning robot out of toilet paper rolls and six jolly ranchers” Wells; Chris Baty and his assorted “yeah 1600 words an hour is normal!” Nano pals). With the result that I can spend fifteen minutes reading and rereading the same two lines, moving out and then reinserting a comma, thumbing frowningly through a thesaurus in search of that puzzle-click word. Memo from me: you guys who have it easier, suck.

2) “Second [of a few general tips], read everything, all the time. That’s the only way to build the general knowledge that you can tuck away in long-term memory, only to one day have it magically surface when you’re searching for just the right turn of phrase.” This is also exactly right. Phrases and words surfacing magically, as if from nowhere, is an unnervingly apt description of the way things go for me. Insert something here about getting better by decanting potions and frog bones into the protean mix of one’s imagination.


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