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In Praise of Slower Writing with Maggie Bolitho

We live in a hurry up world. But should that apply to your writing? Author Maggie Bolitho [1] on quality over quantity. 

Welcome to RU, Maggie!

When my first box of books was delivered this year, my husband went to Period Fine Bindings [2] down the street to have a copy bound in leather. He was told that it would take a couple of years and the cost would be in the thousands. This is a standard rule for all customers, even Johnny Depp [3] when he wanted a copy of Nonus Porta after his role in the movie The Ninth Gate [4].

Why does a traditionally bound book take so long? Bookbinder Paul Tronson trained for years in his exclusive craft. He grows his own plants, from which he extracts essential dyes. He tans the leather used for the covers himself. Working slowly and exactingly, he leaves nothing to chance.

Compare that to the promise of some online sites to deliver a hard copy of a self-published book in forty-eight hours. The art of bookbinding has evolved since the Gutenberg Press first made the printed word more widely available.

In writing as in printing, things have accelerated wildly. Consider the tweets and facebook updates from writers posting their daily word counts or certain Maggie Bolitho [5]trends that urge us to write fast, fast, fast. This hurry-up culture almost gives the impression that there are meaningful prizes for the rapid completion of a book. For people hungry for a ‘write-fast’ framework, here are only a few of the sites that set speedy goals:

These challenges offer benefits, for sure. I’ve done NaNoWriMo. Three times. I know the dizzying feeling that comes from laying down a first draft in thirty days.

So it’s a fact: I can write fast. But I’ve learned, through sometimes embarrassing experience, to edit and submit slowly. Written words are fixed, said Edward St. Aubyn in a recent New Yorker article [10], a state of mind is not. To me his message is clear: take time to get your words absolutely right before declaring a work finished. Once it’s in print, all chance to improve it lies behind a locked door.

Writing is the same as all other disciplines or callings. Sure there are the gifted exceptions but how many of these things can a person, even the most skilful, aspire to learn and do, both fast and well:

Writing, like each one of those, takes years to master. “No great thing is created suddenly. There must be time. Give your best and always be kind.” Epictetus [11].

Time is critically important in personal relations and what is writing if not a reflection of the human condition? A few weeks ago in the post Pucker Up: Writing the Kiss that Makes Readers Melt [12], Anise Rae pointed out that men pass testosterone to their partners in their kisses. This hormone raises a woman’s sexual desire but it’s not a one-hit wonder. It happens over time. So, yes, even the physical aspect of falling in love happens slowly.

Forming a friendship takes as long if not longer. Certainly there are people we instantly like and feel close to but the bonds that last, that carry us through our highs and lows, are the ones that form slowly on a solid foundation. We need to make writing our friend, so it’s there for us even when we’re not whipping it along like a jockey on a racehorse.

Yet prevalent values urge us to write faster and more. Write your first novel in under four weeks [13] the LifeHack site encourages. Write for ten-twenty-thirty minutes without lifting your pen from the page other sources say. Write a thousand words a day [14]. Faster and more—a junk food diet.

Enduring novels need time to mature, before they are released to the public. J.K. Rowling took five years to write Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Hemingway wrote the final words to A Farewell to Arms 39 times [15]. Would he have done that if he had been rushing to get his novel to an overnight, online printer?

Some of the risks of writing too fast, of not taking time to fully revise a novel, are:

I know all these errors can happen because a few of them slipped into my earliest work. Some of those stories made it to print and those aren’t my proudest achievements. Now I know to slow down, hone my skills, keep reading voraciously, and give it time.

I’m not suggesting we go back to quill and parchment writing, anymore than I expect the publishing industry to revert to the hand-crafted leather bookbinding that Paul Tronson does. But somewhere between 48-hour turnaround and waiting years to see a copy of a book there is a suitable pace.


Did you ever rush your work? Submit or self-publish too soon? What would you have done differently if you had a do-over?

Author Adite Banerjie joins us on Friday, August 8th. 


lockdown_cover_sm [17]Maggie’s first novel, Lockdown [18], YA speculative fiction, was published by Great Plains Teen Fiction in 2014.

When a great earthquake rocks the Pacific Northwest, fifteen-year-old Rowan Morgan is hiking in a suburban forest. Tremors rip the coast from Oregon to Alaska and turn Rowan’s world upside down. After her father is wounded and taken to the hospital, Rowan and her brother shelter inside his earthquake-proof, survivalist home. While the electrified fences offer some protection, it isn’t long before mobs gather, desperate for some of the food and water rumoured to be inside.

Rowan knows that if the hungry neighbours had any true idea of the riches in father’s cellar and water tanks, they wouldn’t be so easily sent away. Early one morning, she leaves the compound and sets off in search of her father. She is turned away from the hospital and so goes to check on nearby friends where she finds a local gang has moved in. She escapes from them only to run into a stranger she met in the forest the day before. Why is he following her and what does he want?

Lockdown is the story of social upheaval and lives thrown into chaos. It examines how people behave when decisions have to be made quickly, often in horrific circumstances.


Bio: Born on Canada’s West Coast, I set out to see the world shortly after my 17th birthday. I lived in four different cities over the next decade. Finally I retuned to Vancouver where I settled down, took my CGA [accounting designation], and decided that I’d found my place on the planet.

Not long after that, the wanderlust was on me again and I moved to Australia. While living there, I started writing fiction. My adult short stories have been published in different anthologies in the US, Canada, and Australia. I have had poetry published in Quills Canadian Poetry magazine.

I returned to Canada in 2007 and some time later led the North Vancouver Young Writers’ Club for many exciting sessions. Now I divide my time between Victoria and Salt Spring Island, BC.

To learn more about Maggie, visit her website [1] or follow her on Twitter [19] and Facebook [20].


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14 Comments To "In Praise of Slower Writing with Maggie Bolitho"

#1 Comment By Carrie Spencer On August 6, 2014 @ 8:18 am

Morning Maggie!

I’ve done nano the past 4 years, but I’ve always wondered – while buried deep in revisions – if writing it right the first time wouldn’t be easier. On the other hand, I KNOW I’d never get past chapter three, because I’d revise myself silly. =)

In reference to your bookbinding story, I’ve read Kate Carlisle’s mystery series, where the heroine is a bookbinder, and it’s a very long, laborious process! I even bought a kit and made a little book for myself, with just stitching the binding together. Learned a lot, and yes, it’s definitely a slow process!

Thanks for a great post – and best of luck with your book! =)


#2 Comment By Maggie Bolitho On August 7, 2014 @ 12:30 am

Hi Carrie,

Thanks for your good wishes.

I’m intrigued by the Kate Carlisle series so I’ve just put a hold on one at the library.

As to NaNo, it’s helped me get some first drafts down.I don’t think I’ll ever be the sort of writer who gets it right the first time. I need more time to reflect and revise.


#3 Comment By Mercy On August 6, 2014 @ 8:43 am

This is a really great post. I’ve done those “write 50k words in 30 days” sort of deal, and although I can, I perfer to write at a slower pace.

#4 Comment By Maggie Bolitho On August 7, 2014 @ 12:31 am

Agreed, Mercy.

Still there are fast writers out there who can turn out fine drafts very fast. I’s extremely jealous!


#5 Comment By L. Penelope On August 6, 2014 @ 8:56 am

I can appreciate this sentiment, but I disagree with the logic. Yes, you can write a book in 30 days or 14 days or 3 days, but no one every believes it’s done at that point. Revision and editing do take time. No one who does Nanowrimo believes their book can or should be read on December 1st.

Also the statement, “Once it’s in print, all chance to improve it lies behind a locked door” isn’t really true any more. If you self-publish, you can re-upload your ebooks any time you want and make changes. Same thing with Createspace and print books. I can’t disagree, however, that you should polish your work as much as possible – but perfect is the enemy of good. How many writers ever feel their words are exactly right? We’d never publish or submit anything if we waited for perfection.

Sure, writing fast isn’t for everyone, I absolutely agree. I enjoy both dashing out a quick first draft, and taking the time to massage the words and phrases into something I’m proud of.

#6 Comment By Jennifer Tanner On August 6, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

Perfect is the enemy of good. Love this!

#7 Comment By Maggie Bolitho On August 7, 2014 @ 12:37 am

I haven’t self-published yet. I’d welcome the opportunity to revise after the hard copy was delivered. But I would also be tempted to never move past that one work.

Certainly I simplified the notion of something being cast in stone for the purposes of the argument. Still, we live in a society where the pressure to do more and do it faster is ever present. That’s what I wanted to challenge.


#8 Comment By Jennifer Tanner On August 6, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

Hi Maggie,

I’ve crossed the Nano finish line four times. I’ve learned I can write fast, but I spend more time revising, digging out the usable nuggets afterward.

Repetition of words is one of my peeves, but sometimes, no other word works. I do a word search on every chapter to catch the repetitive words.

Thanks for blogging with us today!

#9 Comment By Maggie Bolitho On August 7, 2014 @ 12:44 am

Thanks for the chance to blog, Jennifer,

The final version of Lockdown is very unlike the first draft I laid down in NaNo.

Do you ever read your work aloud to try to catch favourite phrases and expressions? I do. Everything. All the time. In spite of my best efforts,some weasely repetitions still sneak in there.

#10 Comment By Becke Martin Davis On August 6, 2014 @ 7:49 pm

Great post! I kind of wish I still had the ability to write fast – the only good it ever did me was to get some rough first drafts out there, but that’s more than I’m doing now.

I’ve used that word cloud and it’s pretty cool. Interesting how it works!

#11 Comment By Maggie Bolitho On August 7, 2014 @ 12:58 am

Hi Becke,

To me the purpose of ‘write at breakneck speed’ challenges is to get a person past any mental blocks, to keep the machine rolling. It’s sort of like boot camp for writers – get out there and run the imagination for an hour a day no matter what else you want to be doing.

In that way, they offer important benefits.

But boasting about daily word counts as if this is an indication of quality? Maybe that’s a little less beneficial.

It’s all about balance, I guess.

The Word Cloud can be a real help in the polishing process.

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