You Can’t Hurry Love: A Justification for Slow Writing

Luminous Crossing-2

The crossing of luminous souls – Paul Vreeland copyright 2012

If Blog posts are quick, gut responses, the “Slow Scholarship” alternative, the “Slow Blog” or “Slog” involves the posting on the web of short, thoughtful essays that have been carefully thought through. Typically they will not be posted more than a few times a year. ~ from the “Slow Scholarship: A Manifesto”.

In allowing the thoughts that I expressed last month to percolate, and in pursuing the paths they opened up to me, I recently read In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré. When I read his chapter on “Leisure: The Importance of Being at Rest” I wanted to take up knitting. If I did, maybe I’d finish my novel. Honoré cites Bernadette Murphy who claims, “It’s a wonderful cure for writer’s block.”

While there are many facets to the slow movement—slow food, slow sex—a few hold a particular interest to me as a writer. Surely you will not be surprised when I say that slow reading is one of them. Patrick Kingsley writing for The Guardian (Manchester, UK, not Charlottetown PEI) picks up where Nicholas Carr left off.(See last month’s blog “The Dreaded ‘D’ Word: or Why the Internet is not to blame for my Unfinished novel” for a link to Carr’s article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid.) Kingsley opens his feature “The Art of Slow Reading” with:

Is it time to slow our reading down? If you’re reading this article in print, chances are you’ll only get through half of what I’ve written. And if you’re reading this online, you might not even finish a fifth. At least, those are the two verdicts from a pair of recent research projects – respectively, the Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack survey, and analysis by Jakob Nielsen – which both suggest that many of us no longer have the concentration to read articles through to their conclusion.

While it may be obvious to you, I need to beg the question: just what is meant by “slow reading”?

“Slow reading is about reading at a reflective pace.” So says John Miedema, author of a little book entitled Slow Reading(Litwin Books, 2009). Is Google making us stupid? Miedema says, ‘no’. He writes, “Reading is connected to literacy and critical thinking, but digital technology is not the primary villain. The real problems are our weakness for speed and our attempts to attend to too many things at once. We cannot accelerate our lives indefinitely. At some point we have to slow down to get a handle on our information. Slow reading represents balance.”

Miedema uses two words that jump out at me: reflective and balance. It seems to me that an ever-widening gap is growing between the rate at which I feel I have to read and the rate at which I write. Just as ‘You can’t hurry love,’ I can’t hurry my writing. Why? Because it is a reflective process, and reflection takes time. As much as I feel a self-imposed pressure to post a blog every week, I can’t. The ideas I express here, like the characters in my unfinished novel, have a life of their own. They beg me to indulge them, and when I do, I find myself on a journey floating down a slow meandering river.

Writing this blog is like floating down a river. I don’t know where it is going; I don’t know what lies ahead. But along the way I find writers such as Patrick Kingsley, Nicholas Carr and John Miedema, and it is a slow matter of reflecting on their writing, making connections, formulating and re-formulating my thoughts. Mental digestion. And revision—re-vision. Who was it who said, “Don’t push the river”? (Answer: Barry Stevens in a book by the same title, 1970.)

Another facet of the slow movement that speaks to me is that of slow scholarship. Proponents of slow scholarship say garbage in-garbage out; like love, you can’t hurry the fruits of research. Slow Scholarship: A Manifesto offers:

Slow Scholarship” is a similar response to hasty scholarship. Slow scholarship, is thoughtful, reflective, and the product of rumination – a kind of field testing against other ideas. It is carefully prepared, with fresh ideas, local when possible, and is best enjoyed leisurely, on one’s own or as part of a dialogue around a table with friends, family and colleagues.

Writing is like slow scholarship: thoughtful, reflective and the product of rumination, connecting the dots that are the fresh ideas. Only the dots are not all there; more dots may, if I engage and honour the muse by showing up and putting pen to paper, appear today. Others tomorrow. There are always fresh dots. Take Hemmingway for example. An interesting dot that surfaced recently said that, “In an interview in The Paris Review in 1958 Ernest Hemingway made an admission that has inspired frustrated novelists ever since: The final words of A Farewell to Arms, his wartime masterpiece, were rewritten ‘39 times before I was satisfied.’”

Julie Bosman (“To Use and Use Not”) reviews a new edition of A Farewell to Arms—an edition that includes the 39, nay 47 alternative endings—that has recently been published.

For close readers of Hemingway the endings are a fascinating glimpse into how the novel could have concluded on a different note, sometimes more blunt and sometimes more optimistic. And since modern authors tend to produce their work on computers, the new edition also serves as an artifact of a bygone craft, with handwritten notes and long passages crossed out, giving readers a sense of an author’s process. (When asked in the 1958 Paris Review interview with George Plimpton what had stumped him, Hemingway said, “Getting the words right.”)

If the writing of essays is a slow, reflective process, shouldn’t the reading that fuels it be slow and reflective also? Reading, especially slow reading, honors the creative process by allowing the kindling of another reflective and creative process. To do justice to the writer, or to the true creator of any art, is to do justice to self. For in reflection, we recognize. We re-cognize.

I’ll close here, but this is not the end of the article. Your comments are part of the slow reading/slow writing reflective process. Feel free to contribute your thoughts. Enrich the  river.

What’s next? Maybe Slow-photography.

4 thoughts on “You Can’t Hurry Love: A Justification for Slow Writing

  1. I am fighting a battle with which I need help. I teach in high school where the timed write (writing on demand) is king. I, on the other hand, require the process essay followed with copious teacher comments and required student reflection on the comments. Students must explain in writing why they believe each teacher mark is on the paper, refine the essay (by correcting and improving each sentence), and then produce another draft. I recently had a teacher say that we are not supposed to put red marks on the papers. Comment, please? I try to create time for thoughtful writing. I feel alone.

    • Thanks for posting Christine. You are to be lauded for encouraging your students to consider writing as a process. When I taught, I used the “produce another draft” approach. Using a set of well-explained criteria, I returned my students’ papers for another go-around, and some students were not happy at first. But when a student turned in a “perfect” paper, well, what a day that was.

      Perhaps the age of the student matters. Learning to write is one thing. Learning to reflect is another. That’s to say we can treat the teaching of writing as a process through which students learn to eliminate spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors, and apply principles of basic organization so that they write effectively what they actually want to say. But what about the refinement of thought? Is this something that comes with age?

      I’d be interested to know how you are creating time for thoughtful writing. Are you doing this in class? Or do you ask your students to keep journals? Tell me more.

      • I am teaching seniors in high school who are not in the AP program: the course is titled Expository Reading and Writing. These students have not yet mastered it’s and its; there, their, and they’re, and a long list of other basics. My position is that if they learn structure of language, that structure of thought will begin to follow. As ecudators we fail to admit and even recognize that not all students are ready (some may never be ready) for profound thought, but if we can at least provide them with the skills to present coherent sentences, ideas will flow more coherently, don’t you think?

      • I agree. The relationship between language and thought and belief is profound. Language enables thinking and reflection for both individual and societal transformation. You are so right.

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