As someone who writes productivity books, I get the occasional message asking for advice on how to become a more productive writer. (Guilty admission: I’m writing this piece, in part, to have an article to point folks towards in the future.) Whenever someone asks, my advice is always the same: give yourself permission to write slower.
Writing fast works when you know exactly what you want to say, or when you’re doing some kind of stream-of-consciousness writing in a journal. But if you’re still chewing through ideas as you string sentences together, give slower writing a try.
While it may seem counterintuitive, the slower you write, the more you produce. To write slowly is to write deliberately, and often the best way to write 1,000 words in an hour is to sit down with the intention of giving yourself more time and writing 300. Slow writing also has greater clarity, because your thoughts have time to form.
But don’t just take my word for it: there are far more prolific writers out there. Joyce Carol Oates, the author of more than 40 books, who writes about two books a year, is one of them. Mason Currey writes in Daily Rituals that, “given the number of hours she spends at her desk, […] her productivity is not really so remarkable.” She writes slow, but she puts in her time.
Authors also write about how consistency trumps speed. Currey profiles these folks in his book as well. As novelist Martin Amis puts it, “I think most writers would be very happy with two hours of concentrated work [every day].” Novelist Gertrude Stein echoes this, saying that “if you write a half hour a day it makes a lot of writing year by year.” Anthony Trollope, who wrote more than 63 books during his three-hour morning writing sessions, has said that “three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.”
Writing (or doing anything else) slowly and consistently won’t only make you more prolific—it also makes what you’re doing more fun. You get to savor your work, and tasks stop being an obligation. You enjoy the process so much more.
I often find I write slowly during my work sessions. But sometimes, as I write my way into inspiration and my mind settles into what I’m working on, I find that I naturally speed up. Regardless, when you start writing slowly, you give yourself permission to take time when needed.
One quick word of warning, though. If you’re writing slowly, it’s important to write distraction-free. It doesn’t matter if you work at a slower, more deliberate pace—what you lose in speed you make up for in intentionality.
The lesson is simple: often times the best way to perform better is to slow down. As Seth Godin recently wrote, sometimes the most effective way to give a five-minute presentation is to “give a four-minute presentation and take your time.” Sometimes the best way to read is slowly—so you can process information better and form deeper connections to what you already know.
It doesn’t matter how slowly you write or work—what’s more important is that you’re writing with intention and consistency.