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The art of slow writing

We are constantly living our lives in the fast lane. There is so much happening around us all that time that we have practically gone numb. We don’t feel anything, we don’t notice much. We are going through life just like those bullet trains that whoosh by at the speed of two hundred and fifty miles per hour and where the outside scenery keeps changing every minute.

We apply the same approach to writing as well. We want to write quickly. We want to build a portfolio of articles in a matter of months, finish a book in a year, do revisions hastily and publish as soon as possible.

We measure our output by the number of words at the end of the day rather than the insights they carry. We are beginning to think that writing is the same thing as typing.

Good writing takes time.

Just recently I came across the concept of slow writing through Louise De Salvo’s book The Art of Slow Writing. Louise makes the case that mature writing often develops over a longer period of time. Deep immersion in the process of writing yields results that might are not possible with quick writing we have become so accustomed to. If we want our work to get stronger, more nuanced and more compelling we need to practice the process of slow writing.

Slowing down allows us to explore the complexities of the craft. Lousie gives an example in her book, “Virginia Woolf penned roughly 535 words and crossed out 73 of them, netting her 462 words for her day’s work. Let’s say she worked for three hours. That’s about 178 words an hour including the words she deleted—and Woolf was writing at the height of her creative powers.”

She explains, to explore our creativity we need to slow down. We need to give ourselves the opportunity to get to a deeper level by getting to know ourselves and our stories fully over a longer period of time.

Louise goes on to say:

“Trying to work too quickly, trying to work in too polished a way too quickly, expecting clarity too soon, can set us up for failure.”

[…]

“Slow writing is a meditative act: slowing down to understand our relationship to our writing, slowing down to determine our authentic subjects, slowing down to write complex works, slowing down to study our literary antecedents.”

[…]

“Getting completely lost, coming unstrung and unbound, arriving at unknown and unexpected places, is, for me, a critical part of writing.”

Louise DeSalvo, The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity

In the age of the internet, where we are continually under pressure to produce more content, strive to meet daily writing quota, write to deadlines and give preference to quantity over quality, Louise’s book is a sigh of relief.

Intrigued by the concept I went digging and found that slow writing is being used quite effectively in schools. The children are encouraged to slow down while writing, cut out the waffle and focus on every single word or sentence that they construct.

What is slow writing in schools?

In schools, slow writing is used as an approach to writing that uses a step-by-step structure to create a short text or paragraph. A teacher will give specific writing prompts or instructions as to what grammar, language or punctuation features to include in each sentence.

David Dadau has a lot of resources on the topic.

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Image Source: The Literacy Shed

For adult writers, the concept of slow writing is wider than that. It refers to actually slowing down in life and making time to think, meditate and daydream. According to Louise De Salvo, “The most productive writers and creative people I know realize that dreaming and daydreaming are important parts of how writers work.”

Is there a way to slow down in our lives?

Apparently there is.

When a train is traveling at two hundred and fifty miles per hour if you look inside, the things are at a normal pace – a man reading a newspaper, a woman tending to her child, teenagers stealing a look at each other.

Franz Kafka said: “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked…”

When we begin a new project, our ideas are in their infancy. They need to be researched. They need to mature. That takes time. As we learn and understand new information, and let it percolate over days and weeks at length, it makes unique connections with the information we already have in our heads. That is when we discover new insights.

It is the gestation process to become a writer. During this, we learn about ourselves as writers. We establish our work’s foundation. We permit ourselves to play and explore. We commit—or recommit—to working steadily and purposefully.

But no matter how fast the world zips along, if you want to write you need some silence and space, time to slow down to figure out what you think and feel.

Here’s what you can do to practice slow writing:

Schedule a time when you can sit still. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes. Anything. Keep a notebook handy. Let the thoughts cross your mind and try catching one that intrigues you. Write it down. Keep writing as long as it is there. Stop when your mind moves on to the next one.

For the next month, stick with that thought. Research it. Meditate on it. Look for examples to illustrate it. Find analogies to explain it. See what other people have written about it. Find out books on it and read them. By the end of the month, you will have enough material to write an elaborate article on it. But most importantly your mind will grow and develop insights. A simple thought that appeared randomly while sitting still has now become a fully formed insight. That is what you aim for when you practice slow writing.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

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