“If you’re having difficulty coming up with new ideas, then slow down. For me, slowing down has been a tremendous source of creativity. It has allowed me to open up — to know that there’s life under the earth and that I have to let it come through me in a new way. Creativity exists in the present moment. You can’t find it anywhere else.” –Natalie Goldberg
I admit, I am a fast reader. Sometimes I can devour a book a day. But, my favorite thing in the world is when I come across a book that slows me down–either through the beauty of the language, the richness of the story, or simply because I don’t want it to end. One of the comments on yesterday’s post got me thinking about how binge reading–or the high paced world we live in–might be one of the biggest problems with traditional publishing at the moment. Barbarann writes this about Jane Eyre (which I love):
“Charlotte forces her reader to devour her story slooooowwwwwlllllyy. Develops her characters a hair at a time, sets her scenes so you will be in them despite your 21st Century desire to race. The book is brilliant in its slowness. “
She’s right. There are some books where you simply need to slow down and absorb. Of course, some wonderful books can be read and re-read at a faster pace, but I sometimes force myself to slow down. These are the books that I love and the books that I will revisit time and time again. These are the books where, as you are reading them, you sense the author crafting every word, every sentence, every moment. Not that the author overwhelms the book, but you sense the time, the commitment, the care, the love. This doesn’t mean the books were written slowly (although many of my favorites were) but that the authors didn’t rush in a frenzy of getting another book out. They took the time necessary to make their story grow.
This no longer works in a fast-paced world ruled by the almighty dollar reigns. Gone are the days where book printing was considered an art form, and where books were precious artifacts treated with love and respect. Imagine a time even before the printing press, when manuscripts had to be hand copied in order to be spread to those few who could read them. In the early days of publishing and printing books, I imagine publishers took on projects that they felt were truly worthy, simply because of the time commitment it would take to get one book into print.
Nowadays, though, it benefits publishers to produce work that can be read in one sitting. Why? Because the faster we read the sooner we need another book (especially if you are a reading addict like I am). So, of course they want to sign on writers who produce work at the speed of their fingers. Of course they will only have a few authors who craft slowly, because money is time and time is money.
Ultimately we all lose in the speed.
There are, of course, brilliant writers who produce copious amounts of quality work in short amounts of time. There are also works that were labored over incessantly that are as painful to read as they were to produce. There’s no hard and fast rule as to how much time should be put into a work, and sometimes there isn’t enough time in the world to turn a bad idea into a brilliant piece of art.
However, over the past year I’ve begun to realize how slowing down and stepping back just a bit can strengthen our work overall. Don’t get me wrong, when I’m in the initial draft of anything I tend to write like I’m being chased by a hive of angry hornets. But after that frenzy I realize that my work benefits from slowing down. The evidence of this comes from recent experiences:
- When I first submitted my short story “Voices” to Theme-Thology: Invasion the publishers reaction was “it’s a good idea with some interesting moments but it needs a lot of work . . .” After a few tears, a lot of self-doubt, and time to absorb the suggestions and questions he had for me, I’m happy to announce that it will be the first story in the anthology which will be on sale starting September 28th (more details to come).
- Last spring I finished the manuscript of The Power of Words including multiple revisions, or at least I thought I did. I started submitting it, including submitting to a response session at a writer’s conference. After that session, I realized I could, indeed, make it stronger if I took the time to do it. I revised again, turning it from a third person to a (predominantly) first person story ( a few chapters come from other character’s perspectives and I’ve kept them in third person). That revision, as slow and painstaking as it was, has made the story richer and (I hope) more publishable. So now, after slowing down, I am again ready to send my baby out into the world, even if I’m still afraid.
- I’ve submitted another story called “Three-Fourteen” to the next Theme-Thology: The Day I Died. This little story has hidden in my writing files (in a much different form) for years. I knew it was time to take it out, dust it off, and revise, revise, revise. While it is still getting feedback and in revision, I’m pleased with the results and hope it too will soon be published.
Perhaps my new attitude toward slowing down and focusing on creating the best quality work I can do will only make my path toward seeing my words in print even more difficult. I think I’m okay with that, because I want to feel proud of the work I do. I can still produce quickly whenever I need to–after all I’ve been trained in the theater.
Are you a fast reader? Are you a fast writer? What’s important to you when it comes to books?