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"Low Time Preference" Writing Process

My writing was dead. My words were dull and dry, my characters flat and lifeless, and my plot a steaming heap of contradictions and nonsense. How did this happen, I wondered? I’d always been a good writer, and I’d been writing for over twenty years, too. After a week spent puzzling over my documents, in what just might have been a ridiculously excessive amount of despair, I finally realized exactly where I’d gone wrong.

Over the course of the past two years, my writing had changed. The countless three-hundred-page documents I hoarded like gold in Scrivener were no longer made up of words and sentences and paragraphs flowing into pages and chapters that formed that most enchanting of things: a novel. My writing had devolved from a breathtaking flight of fancy into the world of imagination into some kind of tedious game involving (the horror!) math. The precious documents I’d hoped to publish one day were nothing more than a scramble of numbers, a game that might be called something along the lines of, “How to Write the Largest Amount of Words in the Smallest Amount of Time.”

It’s not so shocking that my writing had turned out this way, is it? After all, we live in a world where efficiency is king, where the short term gains are so often praised over the long term achievements. I set my writing sprint timers and daily word count goals. I set myself goals and deadlines to finish drafts, to find beta readers, and to have my manuscript ready for an editor by this date and that.

But was that any way to write? It certainly wasn’t any way to live. Even in the kitchen, I’d started sacrificing the time and money to prepare higher quality ingredients into homemade meals from scratch, my reasoning being that my long-term health was more important than any time or money lost now. Yet when it came to writing, I was prioritizing short term successes over my long-term health and happiness as a complete person. Rushing to make writing my career as soon as possible had resulted in me cranking out words in a very high time preference manner; i.e., a focus on the short term and instant gratification with no thought to the longevity and future of my career as a writer.

Maybe it was time to try low time preference writing. I took a deep breath and reflected. What did I want from my writing, anyway? I wanted to be published, yes. I wanted, ideally, to release a book every year once I’d started publishing, yes. But those goals were secondary. What did I want above all else?

I realized it then. I wanted two things more than anything.

  1. To write

  2. To write well

That was all. That was the dream I held in my heart all these years, ever since I was six years old, laying on the floor of the playroom as I wrote and illustrated my very first book.

And I knew it was no longer a question of when I would achieve this dream. I was already doing it. Now, it was only a question of how I would do it.

I bought a blank, unlined notebook with a pretty cover, the kind of pretty cover I would have been enchanted with as a child, my fingers itching to fill page after page with an equally gorgeous story to lie behind that cover. I went outside with drawing pencils and I wrote. I sat outside in the bright sunlight and I let time slip away from me. I drew. I filled pages and pages with characters and maps and notes. I wrote a few scenes. I sketched out ideas. I let my hand slow to match the pace of the pencil, and I let my breath slow with it. I was not quick to fill each page. It took me hours to fill just three. But the people, the places, the story I conjured up was rich and lively, with a depth I longed to explore for hours more.

I stopped sharing my writing on social media. I stopped thinking about marketing. That side of writing could come later, when I had something solid, something that had been through the tests of critique partners and a few drafts. Right now my draft was tender and unformed, and it would be spoiled by molding it too soon into tangible things like taglines and snippets and aesthetic reels.

It’s still funny to me, that by prioritizing the long-term, I have begun to live in the now. I allow myself precious hours every day to sink into my story, relishing the magic of sunlight on skin and fingers full of purpose. I savor the enchantment of slow, calm breaths matching the unhurried scratching of pencil on paper, and the rapture of bare feet in the grass with a head full of faraway lands, of princesses, and knights, and dragons. Most of all, I cherish that sweet sigh of satisfaction after returning to everyday life feeling exactly as if I’ve just been on a very long vacation to some enchanted land.

May we always write so well.

Meet Jennie Fournier

Jennie Fournier is an avid writer and reader with a penchant for folksongs, fairy tales, and all things historical. When she’s not hard at work improving her writing skills with the many, many, MANY unfinished novels she always has at her fingertips, you can find her living out her fairy-tale princess aspirations by cooking, cleaning, sewing, and singing…not to mention teaching her lovely music students how to sing, too!

You can find her on Instagram at @jennie_writes_of_faraway_lands

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