There’s a time to write fast. Just ask any journalist, blogger, or college student.
But to improve our skills—or any given manuscript—we may want to stop rushing. When we slow down, we give ourselves the advantage of producing our best possible work.
In her book The Art of Slow Writing, Louise DeSalvo claims that by taking our time with writing, we can improve our craft, think more deeply about our ideas and stories, and release creativity in ways that fast-paced, quick-turnaround writing cannot:
Beginning—and even accomplished—writers often expect to complete an essay in a few weeks, a book in a year…Yet the best writing grows by accretion, over time…Taking time prevents us from writing knee-jerk responses to challenging material. It encourages us to reflect upon, and express, the complexity of our subjects. It allows us to understand that creating fine work can only be achieved by a slow, consistent dedication to our craft. (xi, xii)
Our speed-driven world, she says, expects immediate responses via instant messages, social media, and email, which, “innocuous as it seems, shifts our attitude to time so we might begin to value only that which happens quickly. It can also rob us of our precious writing time—a writer friend having difficulty completing a book discovered she’d written more than three thousand words in e-mails in one day” (xvii).
Bestselling writers feel pushed by publishers to spit out books at an unrealistic rate. She cited Lisa Scottoline’s schedule, necessary to produce two books a year (as reported in an article in The New York Times): “2,000 words a day, seven days a week, usually ‘starting at 9 a.m. and going until Colbert.’”
“Publishers,” DeSalvo writes, “now act as if writing is the same as typing” (xvii-xviii).
What if, instead of racing through the work to get it out there and get known more quickly (“I don’t want to get left behind!”), we built in steps to help us grow as writers? What if, instead of slamming out a draft and calling it a final version, we spent time reading it aloud, revising, requesting input from a writing partner, instructor, editor, or coach? What if we studied techniques and stretched ourselves with creative writing exercises?
DeSalvo recommends deliberate practice to improve our strengths and “remediate our shortcomings” (35). She outlines methods from Geoff Colvin and Daniel Coyle for improving our craft—using their ideas for deliberate and deep practice, we can do things like create a self-study program that pushes us out of our comfort zone and helps us avoid telling the same stories in the same ways. We can analyze passages from writers who model excellent craft in areas where we’re weak. We can pick apart their transitions and observe how they construct their sentences and paragraphs. We can practice, day by day, inventing exercises and activities that improve our technique.
“It takes daily, deliberate practice to become a proficient writer,” DeSalvo writes (37).
She cites Howard Gardner’s Creating Minds that states “a decade of concentrated study and practice ‘heightens the likelihood of a major breakthrough’ in our work.” A decade. That’s a long-range view, a slowed-down approach—a healthy perspective for writers who rush headlong into the work and then feel tempted to give up when they don’t see quick results.
Don’t give up! Everything you write, regardless of its “success,” is contributing to the ten years’ growth.
Some writers will publish their work during those ten years, building a platform along the way; others will write privately and wait until they feel they’ve arrived at a certain level of proficiency before submitting to publications. All writers will improve over time if they embrace a slower, deliberate mindset. Recognizing that our best work may come years after we begin might feel discouraging at first, but it can be exciting as we look ahead with the pleasure of knowing our work now is building toward something even better.
With so many programs offering quick results, it’s easy to wonder why one writer isn’t seeing the same fast-track success as another.
Author Sue Grafton believes more writers could achieve success if they developed their capacity to endure. “‘[S]o many people have the ability but they can’t withstand the long apprenticeship that every artist must go through’…. Too often beginning writers ‘get discouraged and disheartened and give up way too prematurely.'” But ‘if they…can hang in there long enough to learn their craft, they might be fine writers'” (58).
DeSalvo’s message is to slow down, hang in there, work hard. Learn your craft and you may indeed become a successful writer, turning out your best work.
Source: DeSalvo, Louise. The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014. Print. [p. (xii)]
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“Not So Fast is a gift to every reader who takes the time to slow down and breathe in its pages.”
—Lee Strobel, best-selling author of The Case for Christ