The Slow-Writing Revolt

exhausted-woman-Writetodone.com“Nice piece on that Huge Famous Blog, Allie,” you say to your friend, sincerely.

“Oh yeah, that thing. I just dashed that off, after two other pieces I wrote that day.” She tosses her perfect hair and regards her French nails.

“Really? How long did that piece take you?” you say, curious, but knowing you’re about to feel sick.

“Oh, about 37 minutes. Of course posting it all around the world took a bit longer. And then answering all the fan mail. That took about 3 days.”

“Yeah, I hate it when that happens.“ Weak smile trying to hide your nausea and the fact that it took you all day to write one short piece. You leave smiling, stomach roiling.

I confess: I have been Allie a time or three, but I’m mostly the other. Which is a problem. This week, for instance, I have four articles due in the next two days (Yes, this is one of them.) Not to mention a sermon to write, and three other presentations. It was the same last week. I’m not alone in this kettle of fish. A Facebook friend messaged me saying she couldn’t talk—she had three articles due that day. Others tell me the same.

So here we all are hunched over in emergency mode every day, madly chopping and grinding, tossing posts and articles and reviews out into the void. We’re generating twice as much content as we used to, in half the time.

What’s happening? We all have Facebook pages we’re trying to fill. Many have daily blogs they’re trying to fill. Surrendering that impossible task, now they’re filling them with other writers’ work. So now we’re all writing for our own blogs, plus our friends’ blogs, plus all those other publications we want to be in. And the book we’re writing? Oh yes, we’ll get to that, as soon as we finish this last little post. Behind all this is fear . . . a lot of fear. That we’ll disappear if we’re not on stage all the time. That we’ll be forgotten. That we’ll be invisible. That our platform won’t be big enough. That we won’t land another book contract.

Enough. I’m about to revolt.

Here’s what I’m preaching to you and me today. And I’m sorry I’m not saying it beautifully or lyrically with a grand metaphor that lights it all on fire. That’s what happens when you write too fast. Here’s the message: Slow down.  M a r i n a t e.    Wait.     Sometimes even—-stop. Sometimes even—-say No.

We’re losing our way when nothing matters but the deadline. We’re losing our way when nothing matters but the byline. We’re wasting words. Sometimes we’re writing junk we don’t mean. Sometimes we’re just writing junk. We need to quit saying yes to people just because we want to fling a new piece out into the world for its five minutes of fame, if we’re even that lucky. Write to raze hearts and inflame lives. Mean every word you say. Stake your life upon it. Make your words worth every minute of your reader’s time. Anything less is ashes you have no time for and the world has no need of.

Take this, for example. I needed to write this in an hour, with a dash and a pinch of salt over my shoulder. Instead, against all intentions, I have taken three times longer. Not for the craft of it (apologies), but for the heart of it, which did not find me until the second hour. When we don’t give ourselves time to wander and to wonder, we’ll lose the truer words that want to be found and must be said.

Someday soon I hope the conversation will go like this:

“That was an amazing piece you wrote, Allie. You really nailed that review. I’m going to buy the book.”

“Really? That’s great! Yeah, it took me a week to write that. I just had to marinate in it for awhile.” She pulls at her frizzy hair and nibbles on her nails.

“Wow, a whole week! Good for you!”

“Oh, I don’t mean to brag or anything.”

‘No, that’s okay. That’s really inspiring,” you say. You think a moment, then blurt out, “You know, I’m going to ask for an extension on my essay. I think I need a little more time on it.”

“Of course! They’ll give it to you. You’re one of the best writers I know. They don’t expect you to be fast!”

Will you join me in this revolt?

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50 thoughts on “The Slow-Writing Revolt

  1. Leslie, thank you for this affirmation. I have a new endeavor slowly percolating, and that’s both thrilling and frightening, frightening in part because it will mean I’ll have to say no to many of the quickies that get my name out there and feel good. But starting in March, what I really want to do is sit down and quietly, humbly start writing a new novel, something that will take nearly all of my writing sessions over many months (going on into years) and–if there’s ever to be a “reward” other than the writing itself–it will not come for a very, very long time. And yet I know it’s the right next step.

    So…I’m joining the revolt!

  2. Oh, my goodness, yes! Yes! This is exactly what I needed to hear today. I’ve been working on an essay that just won’t quite come together. But I’m stepping off the hamster wheel. I’m going to let this one sit. And the next one. And the one after that. Here’s to Slowing It All Down.

  3. I’m right there with you. Marinating is what makes anything worth reading. There are popular novelists who can put out three four a year, but I find that the books I’m likely to return to again and again are the ones that took a couple of years to write (or more). They’re the ones with substance.

    • Absolutely, Rachel! I can smell a tossed-off book (or article or blog) in a second. We’re so much about instant gratification—we forget to aim for GOOD work, work that will LAST. Amen–and thank you!

  4. Wow, Leslie, thank you for this. I so needed to hear it. For me these days the tension is really between my fiction and my non-fiction. For the past few years I’ve found ways to venture out with essays, book reviews, and reflections, and I’m thankful for the ways that has humbled, stretched, and emboldened me as a writer. I’m also grateful that there are even opportunities out there for such work, particularly online. However, I’ve known for a while that it’s time to step back, say no, and return to my fiction, which has been very neglected. Like Dan I know that this will mean slowing down and trusting that the quiet work–with no immediate reward of being “heard” through immediate publication–will be worth it. I want to trust process, and find the joy of slowly setting down stories once again. I need to learn to sit with the work and let it simmer. It’s such a comfort to know that I am not alone in this quest. So, after I have met my immediate article deadlines this next month it’s…slow-writing revolt time! May God grant us all the peace, space, and patience to do the work he is calling us to do.

  5. I am in. Also sharing this with all my writer friends. We are all tired of the grind and the resulting sub-par work!

  6. Wow. Most of it has been said, but deep inside I felt a still small voice nudging me to say “Well done faithful servant.” Wasn’t it an audience of One many of us started to write for anyway?
    The rest is up to Him. Not the amount of our blogs, Facebook followers or tweets.
    Thank you Leslie

  7. I appreciated this post and found it confirming of my current path. I have not done most of the things one needs to do to get one’s name “out there.” I found that blogging interfered with my writing (I’m working on a collection of essays at the moment), so I blog more rarely now. I do a guest post once in a while but that’s it (and it’s not unusual for me to ask for an extension). As a creative writer, I’m wary of entering into a relationship with language where words become a production-oriented commodity, a means to an end, rather than something that edges toward artfulness and embodies beauty. I often confess what a slow writer I am. I’m still working on some essays I began in 2009 on a sabbatical, but in a sense, every one of them is right on time.

      • Thanks! I need to confess that I sometimes envy those writers who are able to get their thoughts down faster than I can and who are out there moving and shaking. The challenge you give in your post made me less alone in my slow writerly-ness, and I needed that!

  8. YES. Thank you so much for these words. I often dash off blog posts quickly, just to fill the space on my own site. Just today I asked for an extension on a guest post for a friend. (She gave it, gracefully.) I write “content” for a living in my day job, but I don’t want my deepest writing to be tossed-off. I need to marinate.

  9. Yes, yes!! I rarely post on my own blog more than once a week anymore…I enjoy it, and I’d like to post more, but with small children at home and other writing I’d like to work on, there is no time to do any more than that. I keep wondering how so many other writers seem to be able to post at such a consistently rapid pace…and I also feel like we’re all on information overload sometimes. I can’t possibly read everything that everyone else is putting up and out there (it actually makes me anxious sometimes!). Nor can I keep up with that kind of production, which some days I’m peaceful about and some days I feel badly about… I feel like we’d all do a little bit better to savor something of higher quality than constantly be inhaling and quickly swallowing “fast food” all the time…. Thank you for writing this (:

    • Lisa—I have one regret in writing this piece. With a little more TIME!! ANd slowness!! I would have issued my call for that very thing: let’s all just post once a week. (I do this as well because I just don’t think anyone needs to hear from me every day.) I wish we could ALL just take a collective breath, post once a week—and yes, wouldn’t the world be a better place for it?

      • I went to once a week, long ago. Just can’t keep up the pace with all the other things on my plate. I LOVE this, Leslie. Truly. PREACH IT. I’m Amen’ing from my little corner.

  10. Nailed it! Thanks Leslie. You help me with the guilt I start to feel that I am slow. I just have to remind myself that I have four kids under 8 and posting on the blog twice a month and working on the study I’m writing is plenty. Small, faithful, s l o w. Thanks for reminding me of the value in that!

    • Aleah, wow—that’s ton you are already doing! Your family life alone is all-consuming (I too had 4 under 8 for awhile . . . .). You sound very productive indeed. Any word you get written in a household of 4 is pure gold!!

  11. Yes, yes, yes! I’ve been trying to marinate ideas for a while lately–I’ll write the first 8K words or so (and not in a day, I might add), then let them sit for a while before going back. To my surprise, it’s much easier to recognize garbage when I write it…and when I have a potential gem. This approach has been extremely valuable to me, and I’m glad to see others place some value on the journey instead of just the sprint. (And, thank you for writing from the heart. This was just what I needed today). (:

    • So glad, Rebecca. I did write form the heart, from the feet, from every part of me that was aching and exhausted. I always wish my books would come faster—but no more. I took 8 years to write my memoir, and I have never regretted that time or process. Good for you for what you’re already doing!! I’m sure you have created gems indeed!!

  12. Thank you! Reading this has felt like I’m being given permission to slow down and savor in my writing life. I’ve been trying to crank out so much for my blog, that my novel–my true writing love–is being neglected.
    I’m standing up to revolt alongside you!

  13. Revolting! Er…I should have let that comment marinate a little longer. 😉 Thank you for being brave enough to express what I’ve always felt about writing. Not only does slow and steady win the race, but that pace makes a better book if I’m the one writing it. I asked for an extension for the second book in my current series (I’m an agency mate of yours, BTW). Who wants to read a book that’s been dashed off in desperation? Kudos to those who can write beautifully at lightning speed, but I just can’t.

      • Haa!! Would you record that for us, Stephanie?? Sometimes the short piece can come quickly, once in a while–but that book? That analysis? Cover story?? Man, I have to sink and soak to get it right. We’re in good company–cause that’s what we’re supposed to be doing!!

    • Okay, I have to confess this … I TRIED to reblog this on my personal blog, but I posted it to the wrong blog! Aargh! Needless to say, I needed to read this post, Leslie! 😉

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  18. I so needed this! Thank you so much!

    Also, thank you for writing so short. Since I spend too much time writing and meeting deadlines, I don’t spend enough time I reading…my attention span is about 1200 words. Which got me thinking…why do we always think we have to write more to say more? How about saying more with less? I feel like you’ve done that here 🙂 Thanks!

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