So your writing is flowing too fast. The spark of inspiration has set your mind ablaze and your fingers hurt from typing. Stephen King says you should write 3,000 words a day and you’re lapping him: 6,000 words a day, 9,000 words a day. You’re so prolific your beta readers feel like you’re swamping them with homework and your inbox is teeming with acceptance letters. Even your coffee table is overflowing with magazines and collections you’ve been featured in. Everybody is buying what you’re selling. Hollywood has optioned so many of your stories that all your liquid assets are tied up in forthcoming films.
Your writer’s workshop has added nights to discuss your work. You to try pump the breaks, to give the other writers around you a chance to catch up, but you finish stories in line at Chipotle. You’re frequently asked; “Are you typing right now?” while you’re appearing on podcasts.
Worse still you’re burdened with an excess of self-satisfaction. People often tell you that you need to glower more. They say you’re one of those writers who is just too damn chipper. The sheer glee you get from waking up every morning is becoming a problem.
Don’t worry. I can help make you tolerable to your less accomplished peers. Just follow my advice for derailing your train of thought and you’ll be writing just as slow as them.
Formalize Your Writing Routine
One of your problems is that you’ve learned to write in any environment, with any tools, for any length of time. You’ll write far less if you treat the act like a sacred ritual that requires a very specific set of variables. Going forward demand absolute solitude, silence, and space. You know the kind of things modern life allows anyone no matter their station of level of upward mobility.
Approach your writing table with the formality of a seven-course meal. Write your first drafts freehand in a series of memo pads. Use colored page tags to mark the plot points for reference later. Sure, any word processor could do that with a Document Map, but that’s too fast. Our aim is to bypass the joy of discovery by making you have to type up everything you’ve jotted down.
Outline the Excitement Out
Our goal is to add superfluous steps to your writing process. The more steps we add the more likely you’ll be to second-guess yourself. You need to dilute your inspiration through the mechanics of western story telling. It isn’t enough to outline all of your plot points or write extensive character biographies, you need to map out every scene.
Fill a corkboard with notecards until it looks to a layperson like you’ve cracked the satanic reptilian conspiracy to fake the moon landing. Once all the scenes are in place ask yourself if you could quicken the story’s pacing by combining scenes. Then ask yourself if combining those scenes would diminish the audiences’ breathing room between tense sequences.
Get into an obsessive-compulsive feedback loop that’ll keep you from moving on.
Make the Perfect Playlist
How could you write a new story without scouring the streaming services for the right musical accompaniment? If your mood doesn’t match your story’s tone the audience will know, they’ll taste your disingenuous cognitive dissonance and spit your story right out.
Don’t just haphazardly drag songs into a playlist at random. Meticulously place each composition and listen to how they transition. Spend several days curating the right tunes before writing word one.
Over Research the Subject
Until you can give a lecture on the subject of your story you’re not qualified to write it. You don’t want Neil DeGrasse Tyson invalidating your science, do you? Before you go taking fantastical leaps make sure you’re up on all the latest literature.
If your serial killer has a very particular mental disorder make sure you draft a few forensic psychologists into your girl squad before going any further. (Yes, I had over 70 synonyms for social circle pulled up and I ignored them all in favor of girl squad, because that’s how I roll.)
Over Research the Etymology of Every Word
Did you know that the term kick the bucket is a deeply hurtful racial slur with a long history of usage by bigots? You didn’t? Well, it isn’t, but the fact that you thought it could be means that you hadn’t researched its origins enough to use it.
The English language is a minefield of imperialistic hate speech. Every term from mumbo jumbo to rule of thumb is rooted in some horrifying system of oppression. Before you go employing that colorful turn of phrase that so perfectly fits the rhythm of your paragraph, stop, look it up, sift through every connotation the phrase has ever had and ask yourself if you would go to bat for all of them. (Conversely, the term go to bat has its origins in mime beatings, I stand by its usage here because I hate those filthy filthy no-talkers.)
Write a Paragraph Take a Break
This is how I keep myself from getting too far ahead of my peers: I write a paragraph, and then it’s time to check CNN.com. My protagonist appraises the eerie atmosphere of a room I’ve laid out before him, and then it’s time to check on the hurricanes. My protagonist spots movement in the darkness, and then it’s time to check in on the culture war. My protagonist encounters a monster with tentacles for hair, and then it’s time to see how nuclear Armageddon is coming along.
Edit as You Go
Someone once said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I think it was Ernest Hemingway, or Arnold Samuelson, or me (definitely one of us did). They were probably trying to tell you not to stifle your creativity by being too critical too early on, while your idea is still fragile. They were probably trying to tell you that you can always comeback and fix it in future edits. They probably wanted to tell you not to look back as you went. Why?
Nothing will slow down runaway inspiration like a reminder of how illiterate you are. Look at how many times you change tenses. Did you really swap there for their and your for you’re? Haven’t you called out people on twitter for that? What are you even doing with your life?
Wait for inspiration to Strike
You could treat writing like a career and work on your story every day or you could just enjoy it sporadically like all your other hobbies. Why do anything if it isn’t fun? Besides you’ve always got that day job to fall back on and I can only assume that that is fulfilling and in no way an energy draining time suck that makes you feel like you have a good grasp on what prison must feel like.
Take a Break to Consider Better Ideas for Other Stories
Is this really the manuscript that’s going to get me to the next level of my career? Is this convoluted mess really the story I want to spend all my time with? Is this really the last person I’ll ever have sex with? What if something more attractive comes along? Are we still talking about stories?
Pause What You Start
The best way to ensure you get less writing done is to put a pin in whatever you’re working on the moment it feels like work. Bury that file in your In Progress folder, tell everyone it’s done, show no one, and move on to something that feels more current.
Do this enough and you’ll feel welcome in your writer’s workshop. All that envy and resentment from your fellow writers will wash away. They’ll stop seeing you as competition and start seeing you as a good listener. Some of them might even consider sleeping with you.