Re: slow writer

Subject: Re: slow writer
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 05 Jan 2005 00:29:55 +0000

diotima wrote:

i am a slow writer.

I'm kinda thinking that you mean this in a neurological sense. If that is preposterous, well, there I go again...

no really. i am slow. and i am a bit self-conscious about it. i'm not a newbie.

I think I feel this way sometimes as a pedestrian. I'm on foot, spending more time crossing the street than the cars spend going a block. I used to hustle across, in sympathy with the impatience drivers feel at being delayed. And, I hustled because I've seen their looks! Like, for all the world they can't digest the fact that time = distance for me too. I feel a little conflicted about it (especially when I'm jaywalking against the light), but I plan ahead to get where I need to be, on time, by foot if I so choose. In the final analysis, I am in control of the situation--if I think the motorists aren't showing the proper respect for my dignity as a pedestrian, I can give them even more time to sit there and think about it!

>I've been a tech writer (and/or editor, copyeditor, proofreader, english/esl
>teacher) for some 10 years or so. and even in school, from as far back as 3rd grade,
>not only did i always get A's on my papers, but quite a few times my teachers
>would ask me if they could keep a copy for themselves.

two or three times a teacher has encouraged me to submit the paper for publication.

so the writing part is not a problem. but i am slow.

I want to throw something out here, not because of any direct resemblance to what you've said (quite the contrary), but just for whatever it is worth, as grist for the mill, or as the mill itself. I don't mean this to be anything more poignant than a glimpse of writing as a mind/body thing.

I heard a prominent researcher's presentation on "Disorder of Written Expression." You can find plenty of web-based information on the traditional criteria for diagnosing this well-known disorder, but this researcher thought it might be useful to extend the criteria to a much wider range of problems related to connecting thought to writing. One of the cases discussed was a subject who was knowledgeable and could talk at length and in detail about scholarly historical studies, but when asked to write about the same topics could hardly get a short paragraph written, being almost entirely unable to get anything significant onto paper.

My point is breezy: it is useful to me to think about writing, and the physical/mental activities it involves, as a continuum: at one end is the scholar who can't transcribe the rich inner dialog, and at the other is the child who has not got fine motor skills for writing legibly. I imagine we all, without stigma, intersect that line on some level, whether consciously or not. Of course, it is just one of myriad ways to slice and dice the factors that affect how we write.

when i read earlier the part in the thread about how long it took for someone
o write "nine small paragraphs," my heart did a leap! could it be? could it be
that some other writers are slow too? no, no one can be as slow as me!

My take on that was that the 9 paragraphs were probably more of a list, not any sort of fully-expanded output. The original author might want to clarify that?

i try to analyze this about myself. quality takes time. maybe
>i'm just this very thorough, plodding, systematic thinker with
>perfectionist tendencies. but i don't even know if that's always
>true or particularly illuminating.

I like to think the mind is modeled on the physical senses, so that people have a variety of ways to sample the world and a *lot* of variety in the depth of sensory information they can reach. Some have eagle eyes, some have discriminating powers of taste and smell. Some people associate one sense with another, such that they perceive a sound, or even a concept (like the number 5) as having a color. If you ask me, I say use your judgment and let yourself explore writing projects with whatever gifts/skills you have. I can't even pronounce 'job satisfaction' without some freedom to work the way I work!

i do know that the speed at which i write changes from beginning to
>the end of the project. i am my absolute slowest in the beginning. i
>feel almost overwhelmed with all the possibilities, all the demands.

Sounds like the documentation kick-off isn't very exciting to you.
I've learned to scramble at that stage, mostly because I'm tired and sore from kicking myself when I run out of time.

>i crawl. i space out. i think. i consider. i plod along. but then,
>wonderfully, usually half way into it, it's like suddenly i can see it.
>i see how it's all going to come together, i see beyond my nose and
>all the way down the street. the text to come is so obvious, it simply falls
>out of what i've already written. i speed up dramatically. at this point,
>it's almost giddying. and usually by this time, because i've "wasted" so much
> time in the beginning, the deadline for what i'm writing is almost impossibly
> before me and i barely get it in under the wire.

Uh, Ye-ah!? It is called adrenaline, and I hate to let the cat out of the bag but I think that anyone who lasts more than a couple of years in tech writing has probably become an adrenaline junkie.

You're probably spending those first project days wishing there was more stress!

> and when the praise comes, i think, gee whiz, it could have been even > better if i'd had just one more day!

PRAISE?? Wow. I apologize if I'm being off the wall, but my career flashed before my eyes when I read that. Let me explain:

I once saw a video from the Mystic Seaport collection. This particular one was a lecture presentation about life aboard the last commercial square rigger sailing around Cape Horn. The video was made by a farm boy from Maine (1930s, iirc) who somehow had a movie camera when he went to sea as a deckhand aboard this ship. At one point, he's got the camera trained on the captain's dog riding herd on the seamen, nipping at them if they aren't moving fast enough. In the narration, this dog is described as hard working and devoted to the captain. The part that resonates with me is when farm boy-turned-sailor says "That dog lives on the scraps of salt meat, and has never once in his life been patted." That's right much what I feel that being a tech writer is like :-\

is there anybody out there that can relate to this? does anyone have any suggestions?
>commiseration? maybe you might think, "so what's the problem?" but i really do wish i
>could write faster right from the start. i've even developed a habit of understating
>the time i spend on a writing project. if i've spent 10 hours writing something that
>isn't finished yet, i'll say i've only spent 7 hours on it to help hide my slowness.
>it's my embarrassing little secret that i've managed to hide throughout my writing career.

I can tell you one thing you might find helpful. Use your health insurance or invest a couple hunnert bucks to consult with a behavioral psychology practitioner. You meet with the Dr, talk about your perceptions (as you've done here), and the Dr designs a test session to help identify the problem. I don't know what people generally think of behavioral psych, but I've been that route and learned some pretty interesting things about myself. In fact, diotima, I recommend it.

Workplace distractions, biorythms, dull work, all have dealt me setbacks at one time or another. I've found that my work benefits from coming in very early in the morning. The normal business hours in some offices seem designed to make things run at sub-optimal efficiency. Don't ask me how to make that work, unless you want to do so at 4AM. That's when I'm getting down to the day's work, and at my best.


(also a slow reader, when it’s important)

Ned Bedinger
Ed Wordsmith Technical Communication



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