Almost every day I read a blogger bellowing, “I can’t keep up. This 30-day writer challenge is killing me.” They sign up with buoyant enthusiasm and two weeks later are scratching like a dog at the door of frustration.

I caught myself scratching that door the past couple of years a few times. It’s not a mystery why. I ignored the voice in the back of my head that said you don’t have time for this. It was a classic case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach.

I rationalized, ‘I’m a writer and love to write, so why not write more?’ I said to myself, ‘Just write faster.’ Many write-fast advocates said I should do this. Just get the first draft out. Let the words flow, Edit later. It was like a siren song. Eventually, I discovered writing faster meant my writing suffered. It is not like me to write desperately, as if my fingers were feet fleeing a mugger.

I am now convinced that I can’t write any faster. I tried writing poems quicker than a speeding bullet but I couldn’t honestly call them poems. Poems written fast tend to be shallow, obvious, lacking conviction, and little more than sentences chopped into lines that merely look poetic. Real imagery, taken from the world but not in it until combined, were absent, which made for faux poems.

My speed writing challenge prose fared no better. What I think is worth reading, and more importantly rereading, has long and hard labor in it. Some authors claim to write quickly and edit little. Poet and novelist, Jim Harrison claims to have written Legends of the Fall, a novella, in 10 days with little editing. This, speedy composition did nothing to diminish his work, it is a masterpiece. So I know some are capable sometimes of words from a whirlwind turning out wonderful. As for me, and every other author of significance I’ve read, find this is the exception.

My history of writing faster than the speed of sound and sense isn’t good. All it has ever produced is bare bones prose with sweeping gaps in logic and a voice resembling an automaton. It had a few juicy kernels of promise, yes, but it was shallow writing – something ill-formed. In the majority of cases, it required more work than it was worth.

I have a speedily produced novel manuscript that has sat for three decades. It will probably never see the light of day because it would take another three decades to add the necessary wholesale revision and editing to make it worth reading.

Though I am a former deadline journalist, I am not wedded to the idea of automatic or speed writing for poetry and fiction, because for me it requires extensive and laborious editing. In the writing race, call me the turtle. Slow and steady beats the rabbit every time.

Do you work at a frantic pace to produce your first draft and spend more time revising? 

While some may get results this way, others may find that slowing down can speed up the finished product.

More on the pros and cons of 30-Day Writing Challenges next week.



  1. Kris, I don’t write fast well, either. I love your analogies here. Perhaps with time, we’ll get better at being more efficient (I’ve learned a lot from spending four years on a novel!!!! That still needs editing, by the way), but hopefully never fast. Who wants “fast food” writing? Not me.
    Great comment on my post about labile last week. Very funny!

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