good writing takes time

Old book, quill and bottle of black ink on old wooden chairThis is why I will never participate in NaNoWriMo.


A few months back I got an email from a lady who was in charge of the advertising for a local home and garden show. She’d gotten my name from the editor of my local paper, who I’ve written for before. She needed a writer for some twelve to fifteen articles for a special tab on the show’s vendors that would appear in the paper just prior to the event.

Of course I said yes.

In the following weeks she gave me four names. I began making phone calls, trying to set up interviews and schedule photo shoots. I accomplished these and still hadn’t heard from her about the rest of the vendors. I assumed I would have plenty of time.

I was wrong.

About ten days after I received the first batch, I received four more names, and a week after that, she sent me seven more. It was now Monday, April 8, and this was the first time I heard word of my deadline: April 19.

April 19? That was only a week and a half away. The home show wasn’t until the weekend of May 3rd, and the articles were to go to press on the 29th. So why . . . ?

What non-journalists don’t realize is that it takes time to set up and complete interviews. It’d be one thing if I’d been asked to research and write fifteen articles on given topics at my leisure. But when you’re trying to connect with busy professionals—either in person or even just over the phone—suddenly the amount of work that goes into an article jumps to a whole new level.

Thankfully, I managed to get the deadline pushed to 9 a.m. today, April 22. I completed my final interview last Wednesday, but on Friday I still had six articles to write.


Njournalistedow, to many of you, six articles sounds like no big deal. You can probably pump a thousand-word article out in less than an hour.

Good for you. I cannot. (Blog posts or opinion essays, maybe. But a news article?)

Writing a good news article is a lot harder than readers think. There are all these details to be included, and rules to follow, and the hope to make your article interesting and flow so that readers will keep reading. A 600-word article can easily take me two to three hours, and longer if I’m tired. Easily.

Yesterday I wrote 2,426 words. (My total weekend word count was 3,639.) I was at my computer for more than twelve hours. I pulled an all-nighter to meet my deadline. (My last articles were coming much more slowly than the first.) It was hell.

But I wrote some damn good articles.

But that’s just it. Good writing doesn’t come from the sky. Brevity, word imagery, flow, depth—these things take time. I’ve never written a novel, but my rock-climbing story isn’t far from what I’d imagine my novel would look like if ever I did. Those rock-climbing posts took hours. I edited and edited and edited them, as I do all of my writing. That’s what good writing is all about.

NaNoWriMo encourages writers to write more than 1,000 words per day for a month. The idea is to create a 50,000+ word novel from start to finish during that time. And I think the whole thing is a load of crap. If you want to write a crappy novel, go ahead. Or if your idea is to write a novel in a month and then spend the next six months editing it, that’s fine, too. But anyone who expects to write the next “Crime and Punishment” or “Pride and Prejudice” or “Lord of the Rings” in one month is kidding themselves . . .

And, personally, I’d rather not stress myself out trying.

The time I spent on those articles was worth it. And the months and years I’d spend working on a novel would be, too.

But maybe that’s just me.

Note: If I haven’t been as active on WordPress lately, you now know why. I have many thoughts to share about all kinds of things relating to previous posts, as well as to current events like Boston. Hopefully I’ll now be able to do so and to check in with your sites, too! Thank you, all of you, for sticking with me.

Images: Pinterest

51 thoughts

  1. Congrats on meeting your deadline with your articles. Wow. That’s really impressive work. About Nano, I haven’t done it, but I’d like to try it someday. More for a personal challenge than anything else. I’d like to get to write every night for a month with an excuse (Sorry, Husband! Gotta go write!), and to create something (even something crappy) in a month that I can obsess over and stress over. I think it could be “fun.”

    • Good for you. I’m not meaning to say that just because I’m not interested no one should be. You’re right. Sometimes (all the time) it can be hard to find time to write. Obviously everyone has their own motives for participating in NaNoWriMo. And maybe it works better for some personalities than others. I’m probably just too much of a perfectionist. ;)

  2. Good post, Jess! I agree with you. There is a big difference between collecting bricks and polishing diamonds.

    Nevertheless, it is also important to remember that there are writers who do mental writing. They spend months or even years mentally writing their novels, trying to polish the characters, settings, and plots, before actually writing the story. And when it comes to the actual process of writing the story, it doesn’t take very long. Andrea Hirata, the most famous Indonesian writer, took only two weeks to write his international bestseller, Laskar Pelangi. Paulo Coelho also needed 2 weeks to write the Alchemist. In that case, mental writing is part of the whole writing process. Which one do you count? The actual writing process? Then it’s only 2 weeks. But the whole writing process? For Andrea Hirata, it took him more than 2 years.

    In my observation, if everything including mental writing, research, the actual writing, and editing, is taken into account, a good piece of work should take approximately 15 months. In the older times, like Tolstoy, it took longer due to the unavailability of various mechanical tools available to us now. We live in a different era. The internet and Microsoft Word help expedite the process. If JK Rowling lived in the time of Tolstoy, I am sure she would have written a Harry Potter book in 5-7 years, and not between 1 to 3 years like what she did, don’t you think?

    • I agree. It would have taken Rowling much longer to get her work published had she lived in a different time.

      Hmm. I’ve thought about that, too. If you’d already started writing your book, or you knew exactly where you wanted it to go, perhaps you could write the whole thing in less than a month. But I don’t think many people come up with great ideas and pen them in that short of a time.

      It’s funny—I know we’ve discussed him before, but I’m really not that big of a Coehlo fan. I read the Alchemist and was not impressed. The story was intriguing, sure, but the writing…? I found it bland. But maybe I should go back and read it again.

      I think my biggest problem is that I’m a ridiculous perfectionist. I edit everything as I go. I can’t help myself.

  3. I am witness to the dedication, the sleepless nights, the intense focus, the attention to detail that your writing requires. I honestly did not understand how your writing takes everything you have, and sometimes more, until having had the privilege to witness you work. I am incredibly proud of you, your dedication and your skill. You have touched me, altered my thinking, heightened my awareness, made me a better person with your writing. Never stop.

    • Well, and this one too. I shouldn’t skim.

      I tried NaNoWriMo a few Novembers ago. After about ten days I realized that it was just not the way I’m wired to write.

      • Glad to know I’m not alone. As I’ve said, I think that the differences in our personalities is reflected not only in what we write, but also in the way we write. For some, NaNoWriMo is great—just the motivation they need. For me, it’s the opposite: a roadblock, even. I just don’t work that way.

        Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts!

  4. I just loved this article… I’m not a good writer or so… But, if I experience something, good or bad, I like to pen it down immediately….. The words flow smoothly, when the experience is fresh…. But if time passes by, you may find it difficult to bring the rhythm in the words…. Yes, as you say, writing an interesting article takes a lot of effort… To keep the readers engrossed is itself an art… For some, it comes by itself & for others after a lot of practice…….I just loved all that you’ve written…..

  5. Well said! I completely agree. I do try to write every day if I can… I think that being a writer is about ‘doing the writing’, often even on the bad days. But I don’t believe it’s just about bashing out a set number of words each day either.

    • Thank you. I guess everyone’s different. There are some rules writers must follow, but we are all a little different, too. Even if I don’t write a post or work on a story during a day, I am always writing—be it through comments, emails, or just in my head. Not a day goes by when I don’t pen something.

  6. I can relate. Sometimes it takes me a good 3-4 hours to churn out 700 words of a blog post or an academic article/essay – even on a topic that I know well and am passionate about. Good, passionate writing – and good music, good art, good cooking etc. – all takes time. The best work is produced when it is not rushed but flows naturally from the heart and mind.

    Congrats on meeting your deadline :)

    • Thanks, Mabel. Your stuff is all really well written and presented, so the work you put into it shows. And… It’s not that I don’t think good work can be created under pressure. It can. I just feel that good writing requires a lot of crafting, which, for someone like me, can take a while.

      It reminds me of a quote by Oscar Wilde: “This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back again.” :)

      • Thanks Jess. I like your writing a lot, really like the diversity of posts on your blog (from insightful articles to poems). Keep up the good work :)

      • Thank you very much, Mabel! That means a lot to me. I keep trying to find and stick to a hard and fast theme, but life’s just not like that! So my posts end up varied; they are what they are. I’m glad some people like that. :)

  7. Jess I appreciate your honesty in sharing your challenges with this project. I don’t know who would think six articles in a day is doable or easy (I know I wouldn’t) but I’m happy you were able to complete them. Props to you for staying diligent and getting it all done despite your limitation in time. I totally agree with you that writing a certain number of words a day seems totally useless. Isn’t it about quality not quantity? I think writing requires inspiration and inspiration may not come from forcibly writing a set amount of words on days where you may just not have a lot to say. Congrats on meeting your deadline. -AB

    • Thanks so much, Arash. Sorry for my delayed response! Writing is funny: Sometimes it’s all about inspiration—I know my posts “flow” most easily when I am passionate about something and am burning with something to say—but it’s different for everyone. I just know NaNoWriMo would never work for me.

  8. i understand the torture of being a perfectionist. you’re right, it’s hell! lol… have a well deserved break now that you’ve completed your deadline.

  9. I just read your comment message! So cute!
    Gotta earn my wings!
    I loved this post!
    I think that writers are like artists. We all do it differently. Some work from taking assignments, some from their own accord… finally having artshowings or placing their art in galleries.
    We as writers take out our oils and make a mess of our studio as we get the words out late or night, or are meticuously organized, with a schedule and giving ourselves deadlines.
    I recall getting ready for shows and friends wanting to go to lunch… I know thinking…”you don’t WORK” Ha! No?
    So I feel for ya. Those who assign us jobs with a deadline have sought us out for a reason, they like our style… but they don’t understand the time that goes into what you managed to do for them in total time crunch fashion because of them!
    Not only do we need all the information… but then we need to create something inspiring. On this particular assignment you were not only an artist writing and creating. You were advertisment and marketing to boot!
    Hope they appreciated you!

    • Thank you! Yes, the whole process is a challenge. I know the home and garden show lady has no idea how much effort went into these articles. But hopefully the vendors will like them! A few wanted to see them before they went to print, which is against the newspaper’s policy. I told them they’d just have to trust me!… I’m pretty proud of what I wrote, though—most of my previous work has been printed almost exactly as I submitted it. So that must mean something.

  10. I found myself nodding in agreement with every single sentence you’ve written here. It’s a joy to know that I am not alone in this crazy world. Believe me; I have as many as 30 posts in drafts. But, for some reason these posts are not finding their way to get published. I do the same thing. I edit and edit and edit and edit… I am not much of a perfectionist like you though.

    And I loved the quote by Oscar Wilde. :)

    P.S. – I’ve nominated you for a bunch of blogger awards. You can pick them here.

    I understand that a few bloggers do not wish to participate in awards and passing it on to others. I completely understand that. :)

    • Thank you, Allwin! I’m glad to know I’m not alone, too. Everyone is different—we all have our own reasons for leaving certain things in “draft.” I hope you *do* publish some of your articles soon, though. I really enjoy reading your writing!

      And I am honored by your awards nominations! I’ve received a few awards in recent weeks that I’ve been meaning to act on. It may take me a few weeks yet, but I’ll eventually post them on my “recognition” page. Thank you. :)

    • Thanks, Professor Taboo. And no worries. I have. I’ve received plenty of rest since Sunday night. Now to focus on my next post. What will it be? Hmm…

  11. You are too important to us, get some sleep after your deadline is met. By the way, my 600 words article in two hours, including editing? Something must be wrong with me. I usually count days :-(

    • Thank you, Walter. What a kind thing to say. And I should’ve made it clear that in this post I’m talking about complex news articles, not blog posts. I spit the first draft of this post out quite quickly. After editing and finding photos, etc., it probably took me three hours. New articles are different, though, because of the details I have to be sure to include (sometimes it seems so many!), and the voice I must use (I can’t directly address readers using “you”), and making sure I say everything accurately while still keeping readers interested. There are some really boring news articles out there. But not mine! ;)

  12. Hope you got paid for your writing gig.

    NaNoWriMo encourages writers to write more than 1,000 words per day for a month.

    Hmmm –frankly I never paid attention to what the “rules” of this writing motivation was all about.

    I don’t kick out writing volume just for “improving” my writing skill. Too tired sometimes after work.

    • Hi, Jean! Sorry for my delayed response.

      Yeah… Me neither. Some writers just use it for motivation to put words down on paper. I’m far too much of a perfectionist for that. For me, quality over quantity is more important every time—less time I have to spend revising later!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Hope you get some rest today after work!

    • Thanks, Lisa. Yes, I did. I don’t know how else to write, honestly. If it’s not as good as I can get it, I don’t want my name attached to it. ;)

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • Glad to know others relate. That’s why I don’t post here every day. If I did, the quality of my work would decrease. And you’d all get sick of me, too!

      Thanks, fragglerock! :)

  13. The mere mention of NaNoWriMo makes me motion sick. That said, I suppose I could do with some sort of deadlines in my life. My novel’s 4 years in the making and still not even close to a first draft. Sigh. Writing drives me CRAZY!

  14. You certainly have “the gift.” Keep writing and perfecting, as with any other craft worth mastering. I love your rock climbing story, can see that becoming a best seller. ☼

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