Why Is Writing So Time-Consuming?

Why does writing sometimes take … forever?

Have you ever wondered why sometimes it feels like writing takes … FOREVER?

Every once in a while I will look at my watch after writing 500 or a thousand words and expect maybe an hour to have gone by and it’s been TWO. Hello?? Can I have my extra hour back? Hello???

Why is writing, as fun and rewarding as it may be, such a time suck — and how can you better handle the challenge of fitting quality writing time into your day when you have so little time to spare?

Not all writing time is spent actually writing. I have yet to test this hypothesis, but I feel confident in guessing that I spend about 85 percent of my allotted writing time actually writing. What am I doing with the other 15 percent, you ask? Oh, you know. Trying to come up with the best way to phrase something. Trying to remember the very specific word I want to use to describe something. Scrolling up just a little bit to get my bearings. Reminding myself that I have just created an inconsistency in my plot by interrupting my own flow to jot down a note.

Writing doesn’t just take time because we’re prone to distractions, though this certainly does happen to many aspiring writers. It takes time because active writing minutes do not make up 100 percent of the time you are sitting in that chair in front of your work. Our hands move faster than our brains. Sometimes they need a minute to catch up.

The best, yet most frustrating part of all this? We, for the most part, don’t even realize it’s happening. If you’re in a flow state and you lose all sense of time and space except the story you’re bringing to life in front of you, the story will keep playing out in your head even when you stop for a few seconds. If you’ve ever looked up from your work and three hours have passed but it only felt like three minutes, this is why.

We don’t live in a world “built” for writers. Now, I don’t want you to treat this point as an excuse. I have caught myself many times over the years thinking, “My schedule is just too demanding, I can’t make writing work right now.” Our schedules are so demanding because we make them that way, full stop. That doesn’t mean we can’t change the way we live — and our attitudes — anyway.

At almost 27, I feel extreme pressure almost on a daily basis to “get a real job,” find a partner, start a family, and put my dreams on hold for “more important” things. What’s frustrating about this pressure is that it isn’t just one person putting these expectations on my shoulders. It’s society as a whole. Culture and beliefs are changing — and that’s a good thing — but there are days I STILL wonder if I’m wasting my whole life by spending so much time in front of my keyboard Making Words Happen.

We don’t live in a world built for writers. Spending hours at a time doing nothing but writing is pretty much unheard of in many people’s daily lives. There’s just too much to do. It’s not that we don’t love our kids and dogs and social lives or that we have the luxury of quitting our jobs or forgoing laundry day. It’s just that all these things demand so much energy that even when we do have time to write, we lack the mental capacity to focus and persevere.

This, of course, means that if we want to take our writing more seriously we need to find a way to make writing fit into a non-writer world. Does this mean you have to give up everything you love in order to write all the words? I’m not trying to rid your life of all purpose and joy here. But it does mean that sometimes you’re going to have to make sacrifices. Sometimes you’re going to have to spend your entire Friday night writing instead of laying on the couch half falling asleep to Netflix because it’s the only way you’re going to meet your deadline.

Creating time to write is not an easy feat to conquer, but with practice and patience, you can do it. While we’re on the topic of patience …

We’re addicted to instant gratification. On the internet, you can publish a blog post at 7:00 a.m. and start receiving likes, shares, and comments by 7:01. You can post a request for writing advice on Twitter and get responses within minutes. You can look up a book about writing and have it instantly delivered to your Kindle app in 30 seconds or less.

I am not blaming technology for our problems. If it weren’t for the internet I wouldn’t have a job. I am simply pointing out our need to adapt.

We are so used to basically being able to get what we want right when we want it that we almost have no tolerance for waiting. Don’t lie and tell me you don’t get peeved when Amazon Prime doesn’t deliver your package exactly when they say they’re going to — anything more than two days is JUST THE WORST.

Because of our low tolerance for waiting for the payoff, we automatically view writing as this activity that shouldn’t take nearly as long as it does. I’m guilty of this just as much as you are. But here’s a truth you might need to hear today: writing takes time because it’s supposed to take time.

Have you ever seen an article on a site like BuzzFeed that gets published with glaring errors? A shortage of copy editing jobs in the industry is mostly to blame, but do you know why these things happen? Because people rush. They’re so worried about increasing their production that the quality of their work plummets.

The best things get published when a writer takes as long as they need to in order to produce a high-quality product. This means they won’t get the instant gratification they want, but do you know what makes this okay? They’re much more likely to be rewarded for their efforts — somehow, some way — in the end.

Every blog post I have ever published that I have had to go back and address a major error about has been published carelessly because I rushed through finishing it. But it’s a given that when I spend as long as necessary on a post, making sure it meets the expectations of my audience every time, I will receive positive feedback and feel more confident than I would have if I had just done it “just to get it done.”

Here’s the reality you must accept if you want to be a writer: You are going to spend a lot of time doing work no one ever sees. But when you do finally have a final product to show for all that work, you’ll look back on all that time and you’ll be glad you spent it wisely.

You’re not doing anything wrong if writing seems to take forever. You’re just in the early stages of learning to cope with it. My advice? Take as much time as you need. Sometimes deadlines will force you to write faster, that’s just the reality of the business. But for the most part, it’s okay to slow down. Don’t worry about the hours. Worry about doing good work, work you can be proud of. Work you won’t feel was nothing more than wasted time.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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One thought on “Why Is Writing So Time-Consuming?

  1. I see the benefits of just slowing down. I once posted a story because “it was time for another one.” Afterward, I saw I could have written better dialogue for one of my characters. I’ve learned its better to wait a few more days before posting to ensure the work is the way I want it seen by others.

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