America is a frenetic, instant gratification, rat race society. Even living as I do in the deep south, where the pace is reputed to be slower, this is still the case. We’re steeped in this idea that we have to rush, rush, rush all the time from birth to death. And we don’t even know there’s anything wrong with it unless we get to spend some time elsewhere. I was fortunate enough to live in Edinburgh, Scotland, then Paris when I was in college, and they were experiences that absolutely changed my life. Apart from the blessing of being able to see and do a myriad of things most people don’t have the chance to see and do, I got to immerse myself in other cultures. I lived first in Edinburgh, and for the first month I was there, it drove me mad. I was used to the convenience of stores being opened late or round the clock. Consumerism drives everything here in the States. Not so there. Stores are open traditional business hours, generally not longer. You don’t get everything done on your lunch break. It took me a full month to slow down and realize that if it doesn’t get done today, I’d get to it tomorrow. It was a radical shift, this notion of slowing down. And let me tell you, my stress level plummeted. The freedom! Paris was more big city to me, with things open late and more geared toward convenience. But the French absolutely know when to slow down and quit. Meals in France take hours (obviously not ALL meals, but in general). They are an event. Dinner is not eaten in front of a TV, it’s shared with family and friends and conversation is as important as the wine. I really miss that. It was a massive culture shock to come home and be re-immersed in the hurry hurry hurry. After seven years back, I’m definitely re-acclimated to the rush. This isn’t helped by the fact that my boss is one of the most manic people I’ve ever known–and sometimes it’s hard to step back from her frenzy to properly pace my own life. No where is that more apparent than in my writing.
Most of the author blogs I read are of authors who are older. They’ve got children at least school age all the way to grown. Across the board, they all seem to have at least a decade on me. And I can’t help but simmer with impatience. I don’t want to wait until my (at this point) hypothetical children are grown to attain any measure of success with my writing. And so I push myself to write and plot and revise–and I rush to try to get through things, only to wind up making massive revisions and rewrites. Not that I’m afraid of massive revisions and rewrites (or I wouldn’t keep doing them), but this is hardly the best way to work. So the chapter I read in Chapter After Chapter this morning was well-timed. Sellers reminds us that
While some individual pieces may come fast, almost whole, born on the page easily, books take a long time to pull together. You will, perhaps, but not always, have some great sections that come quickly. But all the writing you do to link those sections–that’s going to take months. It’s supposed to. A book is a living, thinking, breathing, alive thing. You can make a pizza in a couple hours, but not a book.
Slow is good for the alchemy–the rise–of words and ideas and imagination and emotion. Good things are slow. Slow, slow slow.
As I’ve spent the last week and a half beating myself up over the fact that my book felt like it was falling apart rather than coming together, a lot of it’s been questioning whether I’ve been wasting my time, frustration that I’ve blown my self-imposed deadline, and again, that impatience that I haven’t progressed as far in my craft as I’d like. But it takes time, like good wine or whiskey or homemade sour dough bread. Funny thing, as I’ve been coming out of the panic and taking some time to marinate and think, new plot developments are occurring to me, things that will deepen and enrich the story. The even better news being that I can still use most of what I’ve already written with some minor modifications. Mostly I’m just adding, and that, I’m totally okay with.
I have had in my mind some notion that I should be able to write 2 books a year. I’m not sure where I got this idea, other than it took me 6 months to finish that draft of HOC. But I need to not use that particular story as a yardstick for anything–it was ten years in the making, and I’m working on new material now. So why should completely new stuff come together in 6 months when I am working 2 other jobs? What good would it do me to race through and finish these books, edit, revise, submit them, publish them if they aren’t ready to be out there, if they aren’t as good as they can be? If that first book is a flop, how much harder does that make it to get that second book out there? The book that I’m reading at the moment feels like that–bland and rushed and thus far unimpressive. I’m still reading, both because I hope it’ll get better as it goes on, and also to learn what doesn’t work for me as a reader and as a writer.
In the meantime, I’m going to make a concerted effort to slow things down. Take some time to read more, think more. So long as I’m working on it every day, it will eventually get done. It’s more important that it be done right than fast.