Don’t Rush It
June 16, 2022 § 19 Comments
By Morgan Baker
I don’t like being late – to classes I teach or the airport to catch a plane. My anxiety meter goes haywire if I haven’t given myself the time to organize before school or when I’m packing to go away. Will I need my swimsuit? What about those shoes? I allow extra time wherever I go, which means I’m usually early.
My stepfather once told my daughter as he drove her to a summer job, “You’re on time if you’re ten minutes early.”
I’ve taken that to heart.
When my daughter and I went to a wedding in Montana a few years ago, we were excited about the event, and to see the big sky landscape we had heard so much about. I didn’t want to feel rushed or anxious, so I allowed for plenty of extra time to get through security and find our gate.
We watched planes taxiing to other gates from the rocking chairs we sat in. For three hours.
But when it comes to my writing, I don’t follow my own advice. I often rush it. I think I’m done way before I really am. My husband, a former journalist and editor, reminds me frequently to slow down, think the piece through, whether it’s an essay or a profile I’m working on. Wait, he says, before sending it out. There are always opportunities to expand or transform my writing.
I don’t always listen. Often, I already have a good sense of what’s working and where I need more, but instead of figuring out the fixes, I get jittery and eager and I send off the piece to trusted readers and editors, hoping they won’t notice the holes.
Not only do they notice, they fall in them.
I encourage the writers in my workshops to take their time. Sit on your work for a day or two, or more, I tell them. If it’s a timely essay, sit on it for a few hours. Wait and see how the work matures over time. Then revisit and revise. Don’t rush. Wait before taking a bite of the cookie that’s just come out of the oven. Don’t burn your mouth.
I spoke with a writer recently who has a book of essays out, and she told me some of the essays took her years to write. Years.
I don’t have years. I want to get my book of essays out now!
I’m a problem solver. I like immediate results. I can usually fix someone else’s challenge, edit their work, or find their lost car key. Helping myself is more perplexing and time consuming.
But when I linger on my pieces, like waiting to bite that hot cookie, it’s always worth it. I might remember another aspect of the topic I want to add in, or recognize a theme I didn’t see before.
I’ve been working on a collection of essays for, yes, years, and I thought I knew their purpose. but recently, I realized I was going in the wrong direction. There was a theme in my work I hadn’t seen earlier, a theme that tied my shorter pieces together from two separate projects. I am now going to select, toss, and revise. Because I’d taken my time with the essays, the theme had time to marinate before it jumped out at me.
Now I’m eager to get going. But I need to heed the yellow light ahead and slow down, take my time, let the pieces simmer, blow on them a little so they’re not so hot and I can hold them.
If I rush to pack, I might forget the shoes I need, or my bathing suit in case there’s a pool. Sometimes I have to unpack and repack to make sure I have everything I need—editing my suitcase like I edit a book. I repack, rolling my clothes instead of folding them. They take up less room that way, and there is more room to add and substitute items. Just as I can revise once more, allowing for expansion and transformation.
Morgan Baker has written for The Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, The Bark, The Bucket, Talking Writing, Cognoscenti, Motherwell, and several times for the Brevity Blog. She teaches at Emerson College and runs workshops privately (see bymorganbaker.com). She lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband and two dogs.