Slow Writing

You know we’re in the first few days of Camp NaNoWriMo. And NaNo is all about cranking out the word count. Fast writing! The quicker, the better! NaNo has word sprints, NaNo has word wars (who gets the most words written in the shortest time, that sort of thing). There’s a Wrimo in one of the local groups who can produce something like 1000 words in ten minutes – she literally sounds like a machine gun when she’s typing (I was at a write-in once where I experienced that live. It was impressive).

Now, all of that stuff is fun. It’s all good. We’ve named our Camp NaNoWriMo cabin the Word Count Slayers (you can follow us on Twitter under that hashtag), because we’re gonna slay those word counts, dontcha know.

But… (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you). Fast writing, writing in the pressure cooker, cranking out the lines, slapping together descriptions, slaying those word counts – do you hear the language? Pressure. Cranking. Slapping. Slaying. It’s all rather violent. What about growing, simmering, steeping, incubating?

I might have mentioned a time or two (hundred) that I like food. Scratch-cooked food. Homemade food. Slow food. A few months back, I was in the bookstore, and I ran across this book: The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft and Creativity, by Louise DeSalvo. I don’t often buy books off the bookstore shelf sight unseen (I usually get them from the library first, and then if I like a book enough, buy a copy for keeps), but this one grabbed me. So I took it home, and (slowly) perused it. And it talks about Slow Writing on just the same principles as Slow Food. Let your work mature. Let it grow. Simmer it, steep it, let it ripen.

I loved it. I want to work on those principles. Not rush, not feel pressurised. And just now, in the rabbit trails of Internetland, I ran across this excellent little video that makes the point very, umm, pointedly. They did a little experiment with kids: they gave them the beginnings of a simple drawing and asked them to complete the picture in ten seconds. Then they did it again, but this time they gave the kids ten minutes to finish the drawing. The results are well worth looking at.


Don’t rush the creative process. Give yourself the time to turn those clock hands into something more, maybe even something entirely different. My favourite of those drawings in the video is the one that turns the rudimentary clock into a cat. Forget the ticking timekeeper, get a kitty instead!

Now, I still love NaNo, and I’ll remain a die-hard Wrimo. You’ll note that when the kids in the video had ten seconds to do something, they did produce – they all had a drawing in the end. Time-pressured projects like NaNo are great for getting your butt moving, getting something down on paper (or screen, as it were), doing your first draft – and some of us (ahem, Yours Truly) need that motivation to get anything done. But when the kids had ten minutes, they drew something better. And so I want to learn to draw slowly, to let my stories simmer, let them grow and solidify, and not subscribe to the rush job that, it seems, everything and everyone wants to push us into. I want to subscribe to the Art of Slow Writing.

And just as a little side note, right at the moment that I’m writing this, I have a meatloaf in the slow cooker upstairs that’s been simmering away since 9 o’clock this morning. The kitchen smells delicious.

Life, the Universe, and the Art of Slow Writing. What project have you got simmering away in your creative slow cooker?

7 thoughts on “Slow Writing”

  1. Great post! I also saw DeSalvo’s book on a thrift store bookshelf & now I wish I had grabbed it. I’m doing my fourth NaNo event and I’ve taken time to implement some slow writing sessions during past events. I hope to find some slow writing moments this month as well!

    1. Well, if you see it again, grab it. Or go to the public library and see if they have a copy. 🙂 It’s well worth a read.

  2. A great post. I feel the same way about cooking, and I think it’s a great principle to apply to any sort of creative work, too. I did NaNo in 2014, hit my 50,000 then put the story away, unable to look at it. When I did go back to it a few months later, it read ‘rushed’. The story was there, but you could feel that it had been written quickly, and needed more care. It took me another year and a half to finish it, even though I only added another 22,000 words. Then I was happy.
    I rushed my first book, sending it out to agents before it was ready. Then I took another two years, writing sequels and honing the story, before I actually published it. And it was worth the wait.
    In martial arts you often hear that ‘the journey is the reward’. I think it is the same with writing. 🙂

    1. Yes. I’ve been getting caught up in the indie writer scene that seems to be all about rush, rush, rush, and feeling guilty because I wasn’t doing that. This is my manifesto of purposely taking it slow…

      1. Yes. Tbh, when I se someone writing a publishing a book in three months, I wonder how the hell they can do it with any sort of quality. But there you go.
        I’ve had about six months between my Ambeth books, but that’s because the first four were written before I published the first one – I spent six months just editing and formatting each one.
        However, I suppose we all work at different paces, but I’m with you on taking a bit longer to get things right. 🙂

      2. Yes, I put out my first two books within three months of each other, but they’d been written for more than a year. It took me much longer to get Checkmate out the door, and it had already been written by the time I published Cat & Mouse. I guess Star Bright will be a test case for how long it takes me from actual writing to publishing!

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