Isn’t it a really wonderful thing when a book you didn’t know you needed to read unexpectedly comes into your life? Last week Sigrun at Sub Rosa mentioned a really good book she is reading, The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo. She mentioned it in the frame of thinking about the ideal writing life and Virginia Woolf’s “room of one’s own,” how this room is something that is pretty close to a fantasy for most of us.
I commented that DeSalvo’s book sounded interesting. Sigrun provided a link to the publisher description of the book and I thought, I should read that sometime! In the process of checking to see if it was something my library has, I decided to request it. Even though I am not looking to publish a novel or anything, I always enjoy a good book about the craft and process of writing and the idea of slow writing had an interesting sound to it.
The book arrived and I started reading it.
At this same time I have been struggling to write my next essay for Vocalis, that essay website I created with the lofty goal of publishing a new essay to it every week. How quickly that schedule has crashed! Because it turns out that even though I am great at writing a blog post in around an hour, essays take a bit more time. Go figure.
The process of writing an essay is an entirely different one than a blog post or book review or even an essay for class back when I was in library school about six years ago (wow has it been that long?!). I was surprised by this discovery and then I was surprised that I was surprised. And then I started worrying about timelines and whether or not I should shut down Vocalis now before I got too attached.
But then DeSalvo told me to not be so stupid. Most of the kind of writing I do is not exactly the creative sort and here I am expecting to produce creative essays in the same way I do everything else. I had forgotten how much time and extra work it takes, how different it is to dashing off a blog post. And I was getting frustrated. But DeSalvo reminded me:
We can take as much time as we need in our projects’ initial stages, allowing ourselves to be unsure of what we’re doing or whether we’ll succeed. We can commit to the process of learning and honoring our craft even as we acknowledge the anxiety and frustration that often occur early on. We can commit to working slowly, taking time to figure out our work, one slow step at a time.
That turned out to be exactly what I needed! Permission to learn a new process, to not rush but take the time I need.
I began writing a new essay last week but didn’t get far before I discovered I needed to do a bit of research. Research accomplished I then had to figure out how to use the research because, while it supports what I want to say, it also changes the scope of things and possibly even the direction I had thought I wanted to go.
I worked on the essay for about three hours Sunday and only stopped because I was starting to feel stuck and noticed my stomach was growling. Instead of an almost complete first draft, I had not even two pages. Disappointed. But also exhilarated because during that time I had found that place you go when you are fully focused and time and the world fall away.
DeSalvo talks about working at writing, how the process from project to project is not going to be the same, how we have to find our own rhythm and routine. All that and I have only read through page 22! She is right about what she says and I know she is right, I had just forgotten all these things in the regular routine and rhythm of blogging that has become so familiar, so comfortable and very close to easy.
Thanks to DeSalvo I am working at getting past the layers of disappointment from not being able to hit the ground running with this essay writing thing. I did, after all, want to try something new and different. I did want a challenge. I knew there were things to learn. That I am surprised, impatient and a bit vexed that I got exactly what I wanted makes me laugh. What? You mean I’m not a secret super genius writer?
Nope. But then most people aren’t. I guess I can be okay with that. It certainly isn’t a reason to give up and pull the plug on Vocalis. I wanted to be the hare but it turns out I am the tortoise. Slow and steady. Writing is not a race and there is no true finish line anyway. What’s the hurry?