It's hard to fathom the fact that another year is behind us and a new year is before us. It's a blank slate, clean, unsullied, unmarred. Although we can't know what we will face in the coming twelve months, we must do our best to make the most of every opportunity we have. As the old hymn reminds us, "Work, for the night is coming, when man works no more."
What we do with the present and future often hinges on what we do with what we've learned in the past. I ended 2020 by finishing reading a potentially helpful book, and I hope to apply some of its principles in 2021.
That book was The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo (St. Martin's Griffin, 2014). Years ago, I read an article titled "In Praise of Fat Books and Slow Reading," and I assumed that a book about slow writing would be similar. I was not wrong. Both the article and the book emphasized slowing down, taking time to think and reflect on what one is reading or writing--one to understand better, the other to communicate more effectively. In the coming year, I hope to focus on slowing down my pace of doing both.
I tend to read quickly. "So many books, so little time!" I also tend to write quickly. When the muse fires are burning, I must hurry to get the message down on paper. I don't worry about the editorial niceties or correctness; I can always correct, revise, and rewrite later. But I must get my ideas and thoughts down quickly. (As I age and my memory slips, it's even more important that I get the thoughts onto paper quickly! And such forgetfulness can occur even while I'm writing down the idea, especially if I allow my editorial self to begin work as I'm trying to write!)
Once the basic gist of the idea is on paper, however, I must slow the pace. That's when the serious work begins: ensuring that the words I choose to use are the ones that best (not just adequately) convey the meaning I intend the readers to take away. That's when I must focus on word choice, sentence structure, spelling, punctuation, and the myriad other technicalities of effective communication.
Such work can't be rushed. Neither can it be done while multitasking. (In his book Master of One, Jordan Raynor avers that true multitasking is an impossibility. One is either a jack of all trades, a master of none--or a master of one.) I must have quiet solitude in which to do such focused work. No interruptions. No distractions. Nothing less than total focus.
The time required to produce an effective article or book varies by person. Some writers move quickly and are quite prolific; other writers require much longer to produce less. I don't think that a writer MUST take years to complete a work. In fact, I suspect that many such writers are merely either procrastinators or perfectionists who are afraid of letting go. No written product will ever be perfect; writers must at some point be willing just to let their babies leave the nest just the way they are, ready or not!
But DeSalvo gives every writer something seriously to consider. There are definite benefits to writing, revising, and rewriting slowly. Slow writing involves employing the best ways to get ready to write, finding one's rhythm, gathering material, etc. It involves undergoing a time of apprenticeship during which one learns, practices, and records lessons learned. It involves dealing appropriately with challenges and problems in ones writing, with rejection of ones efforts, and with success (HINT: Get started on the next project).
That taking of time to produce the best of which one is capable sometimes includes not writing or revising but taking breaks instead, time for refreshment and rejuvenation. Some of those nonwriting periods must include daydreaming, during which many of ones best ideas will come to mind and during which one will think of the best solutions to writing problems.
I'm currently in a period--the interregnum between the end of one year and the beginning of the next--in which I'm combining times of work and times of rest. I'm proofing and revising a manuscript before sending it to an interested publisher. I'm doing that early in the morning before everyone else gets up and late at night after everyone else has gone to bed. No telephones ringing or text messages beeping. No TV blaring. No ongoing conversations. Just quiet for contemplation, reflection, and editorial revision. But I'm also relaxing at other times, enjoying the company of family. After all, one never knows for how much longer one will have such fellowship. Moreover, one might get myriad useful materials for future writing from such personal interactions. (As the mug my daughter gave me reads, "I'm a writer. Anything you say or do may be used in a story.")
So as I look toward the new year, I'm anticipating doing some slow reading and slow writing and, consequently, seeing some more effective writing production. Will you join me?
Happy New Year--and happy slow writing!