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Playing Devil's Advocate


In last week's blog post (see https://www.dennislpeterson.com/post/new-year-slower-pace), I discussed the benefits of "slow writing." Today, I want to play devil's advocate and present an example of a prolific writer who most definitely was NOT a practitioner of that technique.


Jesse Stuart is one of my favorite authors because of his twin loves: teaching and writing. He is an exemplar of determination and perseverance, both of which are demonstrated in the first book I ever read by him--The Thread that Runs So True. He knew how to "put the cookies on the bottom shelf," for both his students and his readers. His juvenile books present timeless values of character that are sorely missing in today's world: A Penny's Worth of Character, Andy Finds a Way, Red Mule, and many, many others.


Stuart took advantage of every moment to engage in the writing process, whether that was observing nature or people when he was on long walks and thereby getting ideas for stories and characters, composing sonnets in his head while plowing a steep hillside behind a mule and then writing the lines on broad leaves when he stopped to rest at the end of the row, or transcribing those lines on paper at night after the day's work was done.


Stuart had an unquenchable compulsion to write, and when he wrote, the words gushed from him. After he was first published, he averaged a book a year. James B. Goode described Stuart's writing style in the title of an article he wrote about the man: "Writing Up a Storm." Harriette Simpson Arrow said of him, "The only way he could go was under full steam. . . ." Stuart himself admitted that "it gushes, and I get furious when anyone or anything gets in my way."


Naomi Dean Stuart, Jesse's wife, said that he brought a writing tablet to the breakfast table every morning because "his writing never stops." He was more interested in getting the stories that were inside him out than in analyzing what he observed or tweaking and editing to perfection what he had written.


Stuart seldom outlined. He wrote intuitively. He hated revising and rewriting. His wife recalled, "When he starts, he will work until he finishes." Once that first draft was finished, he moved on to another project, leaving it to his wife and publishers' staff to edit it.


To write thus, one project after another, Stuart had to have an endless supply of ideas. He got those from his own surroundings. He had taken the advice of his favorite teacher at Vanderbilt, Donald Davidson, who told him, "Go back to your people. Go back and write of them. Don't change and follow the moods of these times. Be your honest self. Go back and write of your country. Your country has your material."


Stuart took that advice to heart and wrote about the people, places, and culture of his native land, Eastern Kentucky. And boy, did he ever write! More than 60 books, 450 short stories, and "at least two thousand poems." To do that, he had to write fast!


The moral of this post, combined with all that I wrote in the preceding post about slow writing, is that you should find which technique--slow writing or speed writing, such as Stuart practiced--works best for you. Be yourself. Don't try to be someone else. Write your own story. And give it the best you've got.

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