“I bet you even pee slow!” she said with that endearing southern sneer. “There is no way you can be from the north.”
She wasn’t all wrong. I do move “slow” at times. I do talk “slow” at times. And I have spent some silver nights winding across Carolina backroads as if my trunk was full of top-grade hooch. Some of my best friends are people who can only be described as urban hillbillies.
But, to dispel the rumors, I am from Ohio. I just think there’s no need to rush through life. There is, after all, a singular outcome for each of us.
And you know what else I do slow? Write.
What I mean by that is that I’m a devout revisionist. I start fast, spend extra time in the middle, and leave the party when it’s time.
My first drafts tend to be the epitome of shitty first drafts. They’re green, funky looking, covered with warts, broken, dejected, fragmented. But what they lack in aesthetic beauty, they make up for with inner essence, for in the center is the beautiful kernel of the story I’m trying to capture.
Once I have that messy first draft, the work begins.
It’s this middle that’s the most important part of the process. The middle is the domain of my revisionist self. It’s where I create the linkages, add layers, strip away layers, correct grammar, inject style, and make decisions that allow that heart to shine through every aspect of the work.
Through many rounds of revision, a beautiful piece of work emerges.
That’s writing slow.
It’s not the fastest way to the end. It’s quick in and long on revision. Slow writing is revising through discrete steps to get to a finished product. It does not guarantee the great American novel or the next earth-shaking op-ed. But you will start something, see it through, and finish.
And as the platitude says, “Done is better than perfect.”
From the third grade on, I’ve had a love affair with writing. I enjoy the challenge of corralling the right words for the work and guiding them into an order that makes sense. In these early years, writing was nothing but fun for me. I wrote humorous essays about refrigerators and lampooned my friends. Writing was a true form of free expression.
As I matured and entered college as a Creative Writing major, I fell in love with the romantic notion of what a writer should be: brooding, self-deprecating, depressed, a lone genius. The trouble was the only one I had any experience with was depressed, and it did not help my writing.
Post-college, writing has been integral in my survival as a human being. It’s been a powerful tool of self-discovery, a way to organize and share my thoughts with the world, and a mechanism for making money, albeit through marketing copy.
What I’ve developed is the habit of writing for whatever reason. Whether for work or for Medium or dashing off a journal entry or running a scenario, I write almost every day.
But I tell you what, it is a pain in the ass.
It’s a lot of work to sit down and do this day after day, especially when the outcome is uncertain. What does it all mean? You must make a million decisions to finish a piece, but even then, as with most art, you always wonder if it’s truly finished. This is the real challenge, though: managing all the emotional stuff.
Do I publish or don’t I publish? Will people read it? And if they do, will they enjoy it? Will they learn something? Will they find it funny? Useful? Or will they perforate it, put it on a roll and hang it in their bathroom? Am I a fraud? Will I ever be Hemingway?
So many unanswered questions. So, I write.
I write and I publish.
Because I can’t imagine my life without it.
Because I’ve learned to manage my emotional state and continue in the face of uncertainty.
Because I’m always getting better. I’m learning new tools and approaches. I’m less self-conscious, more authentic, and I’m tapping into my voice.
Because writing is work, yes, but the payoff is something that makes me much richer than the contemporary understanding of what it means to be wealthy. I’ve developed a deeper and more dynamic understanding of my self and what it means to be a human being.
Whether I sell a million books, or zero, I can’t help myself. Writing is the quest for artistic mastery.
And that mindset has spilled over into other areas of my life. What’s as important as doing the work is how you approach the work. You must get into the right headspace to create something amazing by whatever standards you choose to judge it.
That’s the beauty of making art. There are no objective definitions of what’s great (again that uncertainty). It is open to refinement every day. A writer’s job is to seek and share our own understanding of the world.
And that’s infective.
See, that’s the thing about writing. When you’re in, you’re all in.
‘Til death do us part.
To me, writing is the ultimate form of artistic expression. When I hear words, I see images in my mind. A series of words can describe something in minute detail or inject raw human emotion. Life is a never-ending series of stories told in a seemingly infinite number of ways. If we take the right attitude, we can reinvent each day.
Everybody should write. Everybody should be serious about the process of creating their masterwork. It doesn’t mean you need to publish. But you should write your story to the extent of your abilities.
In the coming weeks, I’ll walk through the steps of the messy process I use to wrangle my thoughts. I’ll share the tips and techniques I’ve used to beat block, manage self-consciousness, ditch perfection, and get words on paper. I’ll share my love for the process. My hope is that you’ll find something valuable that you can use to tinker with your process.
Whether your goal is to make a career out of writing or get your thoughts on paper for an audience of you, slow writing is the way. Hang with me. It’s going to be a fun ride.