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1x Your Life!!!

When being more productive means slowing down

August 2, 2019 | 3-min read


There are these writerly self-help books I always come across on Amazon, things like Write 10,000 Words a Day, How to Write Fast, or Be a Writing Machine.

In the 10 months I’ve been working on my novel, I’ve written 140,000 words — words that I imagined would be at least (two different) "shitty first drafts" of the book that I would eventually publish.

But I think I’ve written 140,000 entirely wrong words.

Somehow, my problem isn’t getting words on the page. It’s taken me a long time to learn this.

Even several editors I’ve worked with have encouraged me to "just start writing". Enough plotting! It's close enough! Let’s go! They’re fearful, I imagine, of continuing to take my money without me producing a manuscript.

Getting words on the page is often seen as Enemy No. 1 for writers.

But I can write quickly. I’m used to deadlines; I worked as a breaking news reporter. My first online (non-journalism) gig was manual text-spinning, churning out barely-readable garbage to be thrown up on fake blogs for backlinks. It was a game to me to see how quickly I could write the 1,300 required words.

So, when you’re a writer whose problem isn't actually getting the words down, what do you do?

I’ve been 1x-ing my life. Even 0x-ing my writing output.

At a conference a month ago, a few friends were joking that they grew antsy during the presentations. They wished for a button to 2x the speed of the person talking.

I understood what they meant. Or that at one point, I would have understood. I used to never listen to anything on less than 1.25x speed. Often 2x. In some emergency cases of dreadfully slow talkers, 2.5x!

I flew through podcast episodes and YouTube videos, trying to cram as much knowledge and insight into the minutes of my day as possible. Much of this scattershot knowledge (if it was even worth being consumed in the first place — which is also highly questionable), seemed to leave my brain at the same speed at which it entered.

One of my favorite writers recently shared her experience of doing a month-long writing sprint to finish her novel [1]. Leigh Stein wasn’t only writing more; she was actively consuming less. She cut out all podcasts and certain news outlets. She experienced more silence. And in that silence, she was able to live in her story more:



“When I'm working on my novel for intensive periods of time, I'll be washing the dishes or taking the recycling out and that's when I'll have the idea that fixes the thing. Because I'm immersed.” [2]


In a 2x (or 5x or 10x)-speed life, there is no taking out the garbage or doing the dishes with only your own thoughts for company. There is only someone talking — extremely rapidly — in your ear.

So I’ve been trying to live in my story more. Or even just live in my life a bit more. I now never wear my earbuds while walking. My blue tooth shower speaker sits unused. When I do listen to podcasts, it's on 1x.

But 1x is uncomfortable. 

For me, 10x is often the easier choice. I feel like I'm getting somewhere. It would be easy for me to set a writing sprint calendar, overload on coffee, and tell myself I’m going to accomplish something by spilling out another 10,000 words a day on a third draft of GURU.

But that’s busywork. It’s not the actual, difficult, deep work of sitting quietly and thinking about my book: Putting the pieces of the plot together, understanding who the characters are and remembering why I’m writing this story.

It doesn’t matter, after all, how far you get if you’re sprinting in the wrong direction.




Footnotes


[1] Leigh Stein wrote about finishing her novel during a writing sprint in these newsletters: Link 1, Link 2

[2] Leigh's quote comes from this newsletter