Why I’m Such a Slow Writer | Academic Writing

Related imageI don’t often talk about my writing struggles on here. I might share goals or writing advice, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing my faults publicly. I resist being vulnerable because I am terrified of being perceived as a complainer – perhaps because my emotions were often ridiculed and dismissed as a child. Nevertheless, I want to share my failures with you because I know that failure is necessary for growth. So here goes.

Yesterday, I submitted my final term paper for the Fall 2018 semester after having worked on it for over three weeks! Now, I know what you’re thinking.  You think I have a problem with procrastination. Nope. I wrote consistently over the three-week period. Many days I worked for 2-3 hours. Nevertheless, it took me three weeks to write a 20-page term paper.

My major problem is that I revise as I write. I am doing it right now. It’s so hard for me to resist the urge to correct clumsy, disorganized prose. I worry that I’m missing transitions or entire paragraphs.

For this paper, I made serious structural edits every 3-5 pages. Then I wrote a few more pages. Then I made even more changes. One day I spent almost two hours writing two sentences. Another day, I spent over three hours changing the order of paragraphs and rewriting topic sentences.

This needs to stop!

I need to be okay with writing multiple drafts. I must resist the urge to write a perfect first draft. In fact, I’ve noticed that my writing is more, not less, clumsy when I agonize over each and every sentence. Paragraphs don’t flow as well.

A more organized and detailed outline would certainly help, but perfectionism is what’s really holding me back.

There are some reasons for this. I’ve never been a “creative”. There was a time when I thought I might like to write fiction, but my writing is very plain and straightforward. I hated creative writing assignments. I couldn’t even write a decent essay in high school. It also doesn’t help that writing is shrouded in myth. Many writers claim that you are either born a writer or you’re not.

Although my writing has improved greatly over the past three years, I know that I will never be a wordsmith. And I’m honestly okay with that. I just want to get my point across. I care about academic writing because I want to communicate my findings with the scholarly community. But at my current writing rate, it will take me a decade to write a dissertation.

My goal in 2019 is to accept that my first draft will be atrocious.

6 thoughts on “Why I’m Such a Slow Writer | Academic Writing”

  1. Love you as a writer of this blog.

    If I were you, I will let go and embrace the writer that you are. I would not change unless, as you say, that’s what you desire. So, yes, give yourself permission to write that atrocious first draft, hahaha.

    My experience is that the limitations are more inside our heads than in our real abilities. Of course, there’s objective faults and improvement, but the most important thing is practice with a purpose.

    I could write a novel here about creative writing and how we got it all wrong. Are you familiar with the way Benjamin Franklin learned to write? Copying. Chinese artists in the past would not dare to attempt anything on their own if they hadn’t copied the masters.

    The worst lie in school is that every kid is a writer. Nooooo. But everyone willing to do so, can learn to write effectively.

    You seem to have a lot of determination and discipline. Draw from that.

  2. Fariba: I teach writing at the college level. (I have a Ph.D. in English literature.) I want to assure you that your writing process sounds completely normal to me! Spending three weeks on a 20 page paper is not at all excessive. The reality is that writing is just plain hard work–unless you are just writing a casual email or text or something like that. If you are writing an academic paper, you are probably stretching your thinking as well–which again, is just plain hard work. You may know that in the real estate business, the three most important things are location, location and location. Well, in writing, the three most important things are revision, revision, and revision. After that, you should do some more revision. If you are reading a published piece that feels natural and effortless, that is most likely because the author spend a huge amount of time making it seem that way.

    So what I’m saying is this: writing is already hard enough. Don’t make it worse by beating yourself up about how much time you spend writing. Just accept that it’s hard and that revision is part of the process!

    1. Thank you for the wisdom and the words of encouragement Debra! I need to accept that the process is hard. If I wait to revise at the end rather than in the middle, I might write more quickly. But I’m happy to know that three weeks for a 20-page paper is normal.

  3. Excellent comment, DebraB, I’m taking it too, (even though I don’t write academic papers.) Thanks for demystifying this writing thing. I also didn’t think 3 weeks for a 20 pages academic paper were excessive. I just finished listening to a podcast where they discussed The Great Gatsby, and we came to know that Fitzgerald obsessed over revisions of his short novel. I’m with you, the hard work is there for everyone.

  4. I enjoyed reading this essay, Fariba. Whatever process you’re using to write pieces like this, it certainly seems to me to very effective. You inspire me to slow down and savor the writing/revising process. Thank you.

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