In Praise of Slow Writing

It seems counter-intuitive that an agent would suggest that writers slow down. After all, isn’t the volume of output one of the keys to an author’s success? There is a measure of truth in that, but today I’d like to explore the concept of Slow Writing.

Think of it as a leisurely walk in the woods as a child. I remember strolling through sticks and leaves exploring the forest surroundings. I would watch a bug crawl up a tree and listen to the birds calling out their warnings as I approached. If too close, a startled squirrel would skitter away. And after a turn finding a new running stream after a rain. I was fascinated as the water carved a new path in the ground seeking to find the end of its gravity-laden journey.

But if I simply ran as fast as I could through those trees I would miss every single one of those memories.

Recently I watched the blur of fingers across the laptop keys by the man next to me on the plane and wondered how he did it. Or the skittering twitch of that person typing with one hand on their phone, juggling a bag and a coffee mug in the other. In some ways writing has become a substitute for the spoken word and we are trying to “talk” as fast as we can to “get it done.”

And the loss is ours.

Consider

In the near future I would encourage you to think like a poet. A great teacher and editor, Roger Palms of Decision magazine, once told me that the best article writers he worked with were poets. Because they knew the importance of a single word.

Consider the perfect word for your next sentence. Is it laden with eloquence? Is it burdened by meaning? Will it shake its reader?

Roll the words around on your tongue. Let them move. Let them breathe.

Craft

It is a struggle to use those slow words as they take shape. There is a famous story of a friend asking novelist James Joyce if he’d had a good day writing. “Yes,” Joyce replied happily. How much had he written? “Three sentences,” Joyce told him.

Craft takes time. There are days where 10,000 words will flow from your fingers. Other days will be excruciating. But in the end a better piece of writing will appear.

Read these lines from the opening page of Tosca Lee’s novel Havah where she describes the first moment of the life of Eve, right after being created by God in the Garden of Eden. And then ask, are these the right words, at the right time, in the right place?:

Wake!

I opened my eyes again upon the milling blue, saw it spliced by the flight of a bird, chevron in the sky.

This time, the voice came not to my ear, but directly to my stirring mind: Wake!

There was amusement in it.

I knew nothing of where or what I was, did not understand the polyphony around me or the wide expanse like a blue eternity before me.

But I woke and knew I was alive.

Create

Slow writing is a discipline of waiting. A discipline of silence. A discipline of thoughtfulness.

Releasing the temptation of Task (with a capital “T”) fills us with guilt in the beginning because we aren’t “doing” anything. Ridding ourselves of the need to succeed today, now, this instant, may clear out our minds of dark clouds. It may be in that widening space that the words can begin to flow again.

Let’s see what a few days of Slow Writing can do for you.

 

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