Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Writing in Slow Motion

After I wrote about Richard Poirier, and his desire that we "read in slow motion," I started thinking about all the things that are better done slowly.

Nicole Hollander once did a Sylvia episode that shows the devil offering a man "life in the fast lane" in exchange for his soul: "Fast cars, fast women, fast food."Sylvia_logo

The Slow Food movement encourages us to savor what we eat, and pay attention to it, instead of wolfing down a burger and fries on the run.

I have to do about 40 minutes of exercises every morning so that my neck--seriously injured in a car accident a few years back--feels good enough to get me through the day. I have to do them slowly, so I can be attentive to what my body is doing--do them too fast, and I can exacerbate the injury.

And finally, there's writing. Everyone writes at her or his own pace, in our own way. For some people, that means they're incredibly prolific. Two people in the Outfit write three or even four books a year. They may be gifted, or perhaps afflicted, with what Edgar Allen Poe called, "The Midnight Disease," a compulsion to write that's so overwhelming that they're unable to turn it off. Most sufferers actually only write gibberish, but a handful, like Poe himself, or Robert Louis Stevenson, turn the disease into enduring literature. Stevenson wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a week -- and that was by hand. So hats off to Marcus and Laura for joining that fast-working company.

For most of us, though, slow writing is how we work best. That's certainly true for me: thinking through the story, discarding it when it isn't working, living with characters until they come to life--it takes me much longer than it did Stevenson, and I couldn't do that if I had to write on a treadmill, churning out so many pages a day.

Everything in America works in the opposite direction, though--we're supposed to text as we commute--however dangerous it is, and however much it leads to anomie, because we need to do more faster. Eat while we commute, read, write, everything, done all at once, faster, faster, faster. Regardless of the pleasure we lose along the way, both as readers and as writers, the publishing industry seems to think that if we're not churning out texts at top speed, we'll lose our audience and our market. For some reason, losing readers because we've let ourselves be bullied into being sloppy writers never seems to be a consideration .

Well, to quote the incomparable Lily Tomlin, "The problem with the Rat Race is, even if you win, you're still a rat."

So--fast or slow, write at your own pace, try to keep some semblance of sanity in these perilous times. Flaubert spent five years writing Madame Bovary, and we still read it today.

15 comments:

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