Sloooooow Motion

November 15, 2016 § 10 Comments


This Florida-based tortoise has spent a decade on his surrealist memoir-in-essays

This Florida-based tortoise has spent a decade on his surrealist memoir-in-essays

The hare finally woke from his nap. “Time to get going!” And off he went faster than he had ever run before! He dashed as quickly as anyone ever could to the finish line, where he met the tortoise, patiently awaiting his arrival.

An author I work with sent me another draft of a scene from a book she’s writing. I sent it back with more notes, for the third time. She wrote:

I love diving in deeper and hearing where things can get amped up. Am only worried it will take another year to edit the book if I do this for each scene 😉

She’s probably right. It may well take a year. Yes, some writers write much faster. But for most of us, polishing each element of our book–scene by scene, character by character, sentence by sentence–takes time. Time at the page. Time ruminating while walking, or gardening, or staring into space. Time away from the book and working on something else. Time at our day job, where one day someone says something in the break room that snaps a recalcitrant plotline into place. Time absorbing the world.

I wrote her back that yes, it’s time-consuming,

…but bear in mind that right now you’re also learning more about writing, and everything you learn will go much faster on the next round! Plus, material at the beginning of the book goes slower than the end, because things are being set up and you’re building the world. And as a human functioning in the real world, you’re probably already changing how you look at things and record details in your head, and being more aware of what makes a scene/character/world will speed up your process, too.

It’s worth remembering those things for my own work. Every time I write–whether a blog post, an essay, a memoir, a how-to book or a novel, I learn more about writing. The lessons from failed work, bad drafts and trashed sentences inform the next attempt. The end of a book may not be “fast” in terms of creative choices, but it’s definitely faster to finish typing a project than it is to start from an empty page. And certainly, as a human moving through the world, I’m noticing more of what physical situations and gestures trigger my judgment, so that I can “show instead of telling” on the page.

It’s OK if it takes ten years–or twenty!–to finish a book. Great work is often made with care. Right now, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) sees more than a million writers around the world tearing through a first draft. Agents dread December: it’s Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Inbox Hell, as enthusiastic writers skip the all-important revisions and multiple drafts in their eagerness to share their work with the world.

That doesn’t mean don’t finish a novel in a month, or “don’t write fast.” But if you are a slower writer, or have finished a first draft, allow yourself the patience to let your work blossom both from your tending and your absence. Trust that building a network of literary support also happens one meaningful interaction at a time. That being open to the world for inspiration also sometimes includes shutting down, putting up our shields, and listening to our inner voices for a while. In our most recent Brevity Podcast, Andre Dubus III says it takes him five years to write a book–during that time, he shows it to no-one.

I am over 40. I see round-up lists of exciting new (always young) authors and it hurts to know I have missed that window. It’s weird to be both proud of a published book and sad that it’s not the book I thought I’d publish first. I’m a tinkerer, and tend to move slowly through a draft, revising as I go, rather than tearing through to the end and then going back. It’s hard to see friends finishing November with 50,000 words and realize that I have some blog posts and most of another how-to book and five more pages of novel but nothing is done. But the difference between a parable and real life is that the tortoise and the hare can both win at their own speed. I’m tempted to say “I hope” after that, but finishing a book is not a hope. It’s something I can control, and the only choice is whether or not to be OK with the time it takes me.

See you at the finish line.

____________________________________

Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the host of the Brevity Podcast.

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§ 10 Responses to Sloooooow Motion

  • Nan Mykel says:

    I love it! I guess you know about the unsuccessful efforts to keep turtles safe when they are crossing a road? They have built passageways under the highway but the turtles won’t use them. I guess they’re like the turkeys that drown when it rains.

  • Great post & for me it’s well timed. I’m a slow writer and it’s taking a lifetime to finish my revisions. I’m half way through & keep popping back to tinker with chapter one, no!
    You’ve made me realise that’s ok, it’s the process & not the finish line that matters. (Well, it does a little, lol)

    • Allison K Williams says:

      We’ll get there in our own time 🙂 I’m finding that the impetus to finish a particular project usually shows up sooner or later, and then I do the last two weeks in a mad dash – but it’s the months/years of ruminating that let me do that. When it’s time to run, the foundation is there.

      • I hope your right, my writing improved near the end of my novel so I thought it would get easier to revise. Truth is the art of editing has taught me far more than writing the novel ever did. #writer-problems

  • Phyllis Brotherton says:

    I needed this today!

  • rumoo says:

    Thank you Allison!!!!! Ruth moose

    From: Views from a Window Seat <comment-reply@wordpress.com> Reply-To: BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog <comment+egxqoa6me5t60fdm_3c43@comment.wordpress.com> Date: Tuesday, November 15, 2016 7:25 AM To: Ruth Moose <rumoo@email.unc.edu> Subject: [New post] Sloooooow Motion

    Allison K Williams posted: ” The hare finally woke from his nap. “Time to get going!” And off he went faster than he had ever run before! He dashed as quickly as anyone ever could to the finish line, where he met the tortoise, patiently awaiting his arrival. An author I work with se”

  • This is a very very interesting article and I enjoyed reading this.

  • Just what I needed to read towards year’s end, when writing often gets swamped by other activities. Thanks for the reminder that slow is fine, and the strong intent to finish is what really matters.

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