Writing in Slow Motion

After I wrote about Richard Poirier, and his desire that we “read in slow motion,” I started thinking about all the things that are better done slowly.

Nicole Hollander once did a Sylvia episode that shows the devil offering a man “life in the fast lane” in exchange for his soul: “Fast cars, fast women, fast food.”Sylvia_logo

The Slow Food movement encourages us to savor what we eat, and pay attention to it, instead of wolfing down a burger and fries on the run.

I have to do about 40 minutes of exercises every morning so that my neck–seriously injured in a car accident a few years back–feels good enough to get me through the day.  I have to do them slowly, so I can be attentive to what my body is doing–do them too fast, and I can exacerbate the injury.

And finally, there’s writing.  Everyone writes at her or his own pace, in our own way.  For some people, that means they’re incredibly prolific.  Two people in the Outfit blog where I participate write three or even four books a year.  They may be afflicted, or perhaps gifted, with what Edgar Allen Poe called, “The Midnight Disease,” a compulsion to write that’s so overwhelming that you’re unable to turn it off.  Most sufferers actually only write gibberish, but a handful, like Poe himself, or Robert Louis Stevenson, turn the disease into enduring literature. Stevenson wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a week — and that was by hand.

For most of us, though, slow writing is how we work best.  That’s certainly true for me: thinking through the story, discarding it when it isn’t working, living with characters until they come to life–I couldn’t do that if I had to write on a treadmill, churning out so many pages a day.

Everything in America works in the opposite direction, though–we’re supposed to text as we commute–however dangerous it is, and however much it leads to anomie, because we need to do more faster.  Eat while we commute, read, write, everything, done all at once, faster, faster, faster.  Regardless of the pleasure we lose along the way, both as readers and as writers, the publishing industry seems to think that if we’re not churning out texts at top speed, we’ll lose our audience and our market.  For some reason, losing readers because we’ve let ourselves be bullied into being sloppy writers never seems to be a consideration .

Well, to quote the incomparable Lily Tomlin, “The problem with the Rat Race is, even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

  • It’s funny, I was thinking much the same thing yesterday when I was caught in the traffic going downtown: what’s the rush? We spend so much time “rushing,” we’re missing out on life.

  • Sara, I agree with you one hundred percent. Everyone must write at their own pace to achieve their best possible effort. I have been chided many times for being the last to finish my meal… but that is because I am savouring the food (either that, or I had far more on my plate than anyone else… nah, that can’t be it!)
    My hubby had a similar problem with his neck – he was injured in a car accident many years ago and was paralyzed from the waist down for a month until the swelling finally went down. He was extraordinarily lucky to recover the use of his legs. Recently, his neck has started bothering him again, and an Xray showed degenerative disk disease in 7 vertebra – he goes for an MRI tomorrow to find out if there is anything they can do surgically to relieve the constant pain he now finds himself in.
    It has certainly caused him to slow down (to the point of not being able to work at his chosen occupation.) Take good care of your neck!

  • Bag Lady–I’m so sorry to hear about your husband. The constant pain is just hard to climb over. I send many many hopeful thoughts your way

  • genny from jersey

    People seem to be wishing their lives away with all the push to “get it done”.

    We’re getting ready to head to the gym. We try to concentrate on doing slow, controlled motions when working. I see others working on machines as fast as possible. I wonder what they feel they have actually accomplished. I guess they could say they spent time at the gym–but did they really benefit from it?

    I know there are many authors that seem to crank out books almost like a pez dispenser. I think it shows in the quality of the work. Sometimes it seems that publishing companies are more focused on their own bottom line than the quality of the work they publish. Good writing is worth the wait.

  • Thank you for this. I’m working on my first novel, at the age of 62. (Okay, I’ll be 63 next month.) Anxious this morning reading about another ‘new’ writer who has yet another new book out. I knew her when. She is older than me. But darn it, I want to write a good book. I guess that will be my reward. Because I WILL finish.
    Have a lovely, slowish fall day!

  • This is so appropriate on so many levels. I’m so slow at lots of things and I often wonder if I just analyze too much or expect whatever it is to be perfect the first round. Now I feel as though I’m not the “odd duck”. So thanks for that! By the way, the Lily Tomlin quote has always been a favorite of mine. What a woman…

  • Penny Thornton

    Slow and steady wins the race and all that sort of thing but in these days of instant communication everything seems to need to be “in the moment” etc. That doesn’t actually make it better – just faster.

    I think you can tell when care has been taken with a book. And care takes time.


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