Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 33:

“I write so slowly that I never seem to
get much done.”

Most of us are slow writers.

A tiny percentage are quick, what I call “first drafters,” who write a draft without stopping to revise, skim it for grammar, and send it off.

Indeed, they are so rare that they inspire commentary when sighted. The prolific eighteenth-century writer Samuel Johnson once wrote an essay in about half-an-hour while the printer’s runner was at the door. When a friend asked if he could read it, Johnson shook his head and handed the essay to the runner, telling his friend, “Sir, you shall not do more than I have done myself” (Boswell 1793).

These are the kinds of stories that people use to make themselves feel bad about their pace of writing. But it is wise to remember several things.

First, Johnson composed much of his writing in his head and then wrote it down in a short space of time. So, the actual writing process wasn’t that short.

Second, he was not writing for academic publication. If he had been, editors would have regularly rejected his articles for plagiarism and inaccurate quoting of sources (which he did from memory). You are working under different constraints!

So, don’t torture yourself with these examples. While some people who have been writing steadily for more than a decade can quickly write good first drafts, they are still the exception rather than the rule.

Most people plod along, deleting one sentence for every three sentences they write and having to repeatedly read and revise their work to get it right. This does not make you a bad writer, it makes you a good writer. Over time, you will get faster. For now, applaud the amount of time you spend on writing instead of bemoaning your low output.

Also, you may not be properly estimating how much work you are doing. Some people enjoy using Draftback, a Google Chrome extension that allows you to “play back” the revisions you made in any Google Doc. As the creator James Somers says, it is like “traveling through time to look over your own shoulder as you write”(Somers 2014). If you look at the archaeology of your document like this, you may see that you do more than you think.

Works Cited

Boswell, James. 1793. The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. 2nd ed. (ECCO) ed. 3 vols. London: Henry Baldwin, for Charles Dilly.

Somers, James. 2014. “How I Reverse-Engineered Google Docs to Play Back Any Document’s Keystrokes.” James Somers, November 5, 2014. Accessed on February 23, 2017.

Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 33, one of the confidence obstacles listed on page 32 of Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (University of Chicago Press, 2019).