March 9, 2015

The Slow Writer

By Hannah Vanderpool

I’m a writer who also happens to homeschool three middle-schoolers. This means that any time I devote to honing my craft, meeting project deadlines, and working on long-term writing goals must be carved out of an already full and noisy day. I used to write as if I were shoplifting, stealing moments in the bathroom or in my bedroom, with the door locked. Every minute in which I managed to wrangle thoughts into words uninterrupted felt like a piece of sparkly merchandise hidden under my coat. 

Once I wrote an entire novel in a month using this write-while–the-kids-aren’t-looking method.  It was thrilling and ridiculous and stands out as a feat only slightly less insane than, say, giving birth to three children in the span of thirty-two months. The problem was that, although I had an entire first draft at the end of that month (and Mama loves her completed projects) it wasn’t any good. I had written like a hunted animal and it showed. I realized that the heart-pumping pace had forced me to produce, but it wasn’t even close to my best work. And, anyway, writing like it’s the end of the world wasn’t a long-term solution to the problem of never having enough time to write.           

It was when I realized that writing is forever, that the work is never actually finished, that I was able to develop a different mindset and make real, reliable time to do it. It meant that I had to get up very early, while my kids were still snoring, and open up the laptop. Still in pajamas, in the dark, quiet space of my bedroom, I had to learn to make the most of my time, sometimes writing less than I wanted to, sometimes more. 

Eventually I settled in to producing between 500 and 1,000 words each morning without the aid of adrenaline and cortisol. This was nothing like the output I’d managed when I crammed a novel into a month and, at first, I was tempted to feel sorry for myself, to give in the feeling that I wasn’t accomplishing much. The pace was mundane, work-a-day, normal. But each day, as I looked over the work I’d done the following morning, I realized that I wanted to trash less and keep more. I discovered that this was because I was writing at the pace of my thoughts, not trying to outrun them. 

Over time, I’ve been able to produce thousands of words with those two morning hours, many of them for keeps. I’m able to continue homeschooling my kids, giving them the freedom to discover their passions the way I’ve discovered mine, and meet important writing goals. The key, for me, is to be consistent, to go as slowly as I need to, and to remember that I’ll get to do it all again tomorrow.   

Hannah Vanderpool is a writer, world traveler, and homeschooler to three interesting middle-schoolers. She can’t imagine a world without sisters and books. You can visit her at and or connect on Twitter @HannahVPool. 

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