On Writing in a Hurry (Or Not)


I began working on my current novel-in-progress over seven years ago. Back in 2013, I made the noble goal to have it finished and sent out to agents and publishers by the end of the year. That didn’t happen. Not even close.

I thought about making the same goal again this year, but then I decided to hold off on such a deadline.

It’s not that I don’t want to finish it. Of all my writing-related pursuits, it’s the one I care about the most at the moment. It’s the one I think has the best chance of success. And it’s often the last thing on my to-do list. Hell, even writing a blog post about not working on the novel is more of a priority for me.

I’ve been sitting on a finished rough draft for almost three years. I’ve decided more than once that it needs to be blown up. Right now, I want to start the whole thing over from scratch. On my last editing attempt, I made it through 50 pages, all the while wavering between this sucks and yeah, this could be pretty damn good.

Why don’t I just sit down and finish it? Why do I constantly put it on the bottom of the to-do list? Why does it sometimes not even make that list?

Maybe I’m terrified it won’t be any good. Or maybe deep down I think I can’t do it. No, I don’t think either of those things are true. I can make this book, and I can make it as good as I want it to be.

I have this terrible fear that someone else is going to release my novel idea before me—most likely in a poorly executed B-level comedy that makes $100 million on opening weekend at the box office.

I want to rush to finish it, not just to have it finished, but to ward off this irrational fear of someone else duplicating the idea (seriously, if someone else puts out a book with the same concept, then my book is dead before I finish it).

Almost everything about publishing seems rushed these days. Every news publisher has to be the first to release a story, which often results in an inferior (or flat-out incorrect) telling. Just last week, ESPN was the first to publish the Aaron Hernandez verdict. In their hastiness, the headline and the body of the article were in slight disagreement:

espn fail

Things often aren’t much different in the world of big book publishing. Almost every bestseller I read feels like the author slapped together some rushed version of the ending. I often think this wasn’t how this was meant to end. Is everyone just trying to hurry to get the next big thing out there?

As an editor, many of the submissions I receive feel rushed. They feel like first drafts. Do some of these authors place the final period and send it off in the same instant?

I know I have been a bit hasty with a lot of my work. I’ve sent stories out for publication much too soon. To this day, I regret nearly everything about my first published novel. Although I spent three years making it “perfect,” I sent it out long before it was ready. I hadn’t done the right research. I’d just written a story and assumed it was good enough. But I can’t take back what has been published (on the bright side, probably only about a hundred people have actually ready it). At least I can learn from those mistakes.

I do think my current novel has great potential, but it’s certainly not in any such shape right now. Definitely not ready to be a $100 million film. And I’ll probably never get it into that particular shape. In ten or twenty years, it’ll probably get picked up by an indie publisher, maybe with a $500 advance and a 20% royalty. But that’s not why I’m writing it. I’m writing it because it has to be done. It’s my masterpiece (whether anyone else knows it or not).

And that’s why I can’t write it in a hurry.


7 thoughts on “On Writing in a Hurry (Or Not)

  1. I know what you mean! I identify with you quite a bit, actually. I started my first novel in 2007. Never finished it; in fact, it spawned an idea for an entirely separate series instead (still taking place in the same universe).

    I’ve finished the first novel of that series, yet to be published; I’m excited about the “new” series I’m currently writing, but am paranoid that someone will beat me to my idea of the book I had started originally. Then again, I think to some extent it’s all been done before – we as writers just have to take things in new directions.

    1. Paul, thank you for reading and sharing your story. I would bet that many writers are in a similar boat as we are. Best of luck on the new series as well as the original novel idea!

  2. I am currently teetering on a see-saw of “This novel will be the death of me” and “I live in constant fear of not finishing this novel.” The novel of which I speak is my first, the one I’ve been carrying around for two decades and the one I’ve finally finished. In my case, I really feel like it was holding me back from doing anything else, so there are certainly times when I was hasty with it. I know, in my gut, that it is not the best novel I will ever write, but I also think it’s pretty darn ok (don’t we all?)….even if it does have a death in it ;-). When I finished the first draft, I was about 70% ok with it. With the 2nd, I’m about 90%. If I get to 95%, I’ll be pleased. As much as I want to make every sentence sing and every detail dance, there comes a time when it’s too much, when you drown in the spaces in between the words and you need to let go or you risk sinking. I’m almost there. I hope you get there too. I’m not too worried about my idea–it’s as old as time. I just hope that the sentences sing enough to make whoever reads it think about it in a different way.

    1. Dina, thank you for sharing this. I really like your point about letting go or sinking. We all need to make tough decisions as writers, don’t we? Congrats on finishing the novel! I hope you reach that 95% point soon.

  3. I feel your pain, Nate. I thought I was finished with my current novel a year ago (which I started in 2013) but I am still working on it (though I am now just weeks away from publishing–he says with fingers crossed). I wanted to self-publish it last September, but thanks to some delays (not of my own doing) I had some more time, eight months to be precise to take a hard look at it. And all I can say is WHEW! Thanks to that delay, I added a few more chapters and scenes which greatly impacted the novel.

    My advice is, take your time and enjoy the ride.

    1. Jeffrey, thank you for the supportive words. You give me hope that I will someday in the very distant future finish this thing. Congrats on your new book. I look forward to reading it.

  4. This was something I needed to see. I am working on yet another edit of my novel and realizing that it will never really be done. At some point, I need to let it out into the world and get on with other projects.

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