Moseying back to slow writing

A while ago, I wrote about how I am a naturally slow writer. This didn't serve me so well as a newspaper reporter—the necessary superficialities of stories banged out on deadline frustrated me. I am happier writing for magazines and books, where part of the idea is to arrive at dense, layered writing, the product of much rumination and even more crafting. That doesn't mean that "slow writing" leads to long narratives. Much of what stretches out the time it takes to arrive at something truly satisfying is taken up with cutting less-than-great material, arranging and rearranging sentences, and trimming any word not necessary for meaning or music. One of my favorites quotes about how long it takes to write something short comes from Blaise Pascal:
Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte:
In a letter to a friend, Pascal lamented, “I would not have made this so long except that I haven’t had the leisure to make it shorter.” Many other writers have also considered the importance of slow, thoughtful writing. Today their musings often come in response to the demands of our hyperfast, hyperlinked world. They borrow from or respond to the ideas behind slow-food and slow-travel. Recently, Maria Lavis explored the value of slow writing and slow reading in her blog. If you're looking for more on the topic, try some of the articles Maria Lavis references: Christopher Gronlund's post in praise of slow writing, Michael Duffy's review of Reuben Bower's "Reading in Slow Motion," and Brad Hughes post on starting a slow-writing movement. Then feel free to comment. Or think for a long time, play with words, then comment.

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6 Responses to Moseying back to slow writing

  1. Steve Greenleaf April 1, 2014 at 1:08 am #

    Pascal? I had thought it George Bernard Shaw! Anyway, regardless of the original source, a sage comment worth repeating. And thanks for reassuring those of us who are also slow writers.

  2. Constance Hale April 1, 2014 at 10:44 am #

    Steve,
    Isn’t it funny?–everyone attributes this quote to someone different. I’d heard it was said by Mark Twain, and attributed it to him on the radio, only to have the host correct me (tsk tsk) and say it was A. K. Chesterton. That made me want to verify the quote, always a fascinating process. Which led me to the original quip, or rather elegant sentence, by Blaise Pascal.

    Apparently it’s variously attributed to not just these three, but also George Bernard Shaw (as you suggest), Voltaire, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Winston Churchill, Pliny the Younger, Cato, Cicero, Bill Clinton, and Benjamin Franklin.

    If you want to have a little fun, read the history of the quote here: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/04/28/shorter-letter/

    Connie

  3. Audrey Williams May 6, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

    Thanks so much for this! I am a slow writer, as I use mindfulness and meditation to inform the creative nonfiction pieces I am crafting. I’m working on the story of how my parents met and though the entire story has already occurred, it is a slow process to unpack the meaning of significant events in thoughtful ways, how to handle a poignant moment without being corny…if only there was a “crock-pot” for stories and they could be put on the slow-cook setting…

    • Connie Hale May 6, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

      I love the idea of a story crock-pot! You are so astute, Audrey, to take your time.

      I have a couple little rituals I do at the start of every writing day. The main thing is opening up my office, sweeping the floor, watering the potted plants, preferable while some inspirational music is playing (I’m partial to Hawaiian slack-key guitar, or Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert). It’s a way of “preparing the ground”–literally and figuratively.

      • Audrey Williams May 9, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

        Thanks for your reply Connie. By the way I plan to take the editcetera workshop on June 3, looking forward to it!

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