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Review: The Art of Slow Writing – Louise De Salvo

The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo

St Martin’s Press, 2014

“The reflections in The Art of Slow Writing are an invitation for us to think about specific techniques we can use to enter the slow writing life; find ways to deal with the emotional pitfalls—fear, anxiety, judgment, self-doubt—that inevitably accompany our work; delve into what it means to live a healthy and productive creative life; and celebrate our tenacity and our accomplishments.”

De Salvo’s “The Art of Slow Writing” is a kind of “Take my hand, and I’ll show you how this thing called writing works.” It’s not like any of the thousands of writing books that trick you into thinking it’s one thing and then ends up being that paint-by-number writing book that rehashes the elements of writing.

De Salvo uses scores of useful examples from many writers, stellar and as yet unknown, to describe what challenges we can expect from a writing life, and she then expounds on how these writers have developed techniques to help them in their quest to provide the best possible manuscripts.

Writing is not an exact science, but its unwieldy bits and challenges can become manageable and we can achieve good writing, by being curious, and measured and mindful about what it is we, as writers, want to say. De Salvo shows how we might manage this writing life in the book’s five parts: Getting Ready to Write, A Writer’s Apprenticeship, Challenges and Successes, Writers at Rest, and Building a Book, Finishing a Book.

This book should be on every writer’s bookshelf, especially new writers, who have a lot to gain from Da Salvo, who is an experienced teacher and much published author herself.

Rating: For being book that delivers what it promises, I give this book 4.5 stars.

My favourite thing: Lots of practical tools that you can print out and use.

 

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Forget the Pressure, Trust the Process.

So many writers put pressure on themselves to write the bestseller, to create a perfect opening, to have a clever ending, to make each word of the poem perfect… the list of pressures we put on ourselves can be overwhelming. There’s no rush. There is no God of Creativity waiting to take your talent away from you if you don’t use it. J R R Tolkien took two and a half years to write The Hobbit, and 16 years to write The Lord of the Rings.

Some writers write reams of work and have prolific ideas, like best-selling author James Patterson, who is now has a book factory where other writers do the actual writing. Donna Tartt writes one book every decade. Some writers are able to churn out the quantity, while others  just have to take whatever time they can to write, and thus take as long as it takes. I remember asking my dad how long it would take to draw a picture or turn a wooden candlestick on his lathe, and he’d reply “As long as a piece of string”. There’s no telling how long a creative piece of work is going to take.

Whether you’re a full-time writer or a part-time writer, the process is the same, you all have to sit down and write. There are a lot of writing books that suggest daily targets, others that suggest fixed hours, or adopting a ritual that gets you into the mode of writing. Everyone works differently. However, what is important in any endeavour, says physical strength coach, Dan John, is that you show up. If you don’t show up, put your butt in the chair, open the page and start writing, you’re not going to write anything.

It doesn’t matter what you write, or whether you’ve spelled every word correctly, or written captivating sex scenes that are going to wow readers. What is important is that you’ve started the process, that you’re showing up every day for the process, and one by one, you’re getting the words down, whether that’s five minutes of words or three hours of words.

I have often been resistant to sitting down and tackling a chapter, but since writing is my full-time occupation, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike. I just have to show up and trust the process. When I’m feeling particularly resistant to writing, I think about what the chapter is going to be about, and I start to list what needs to be included. Then I start knocking things off that list. It sounds boring, it sounds like wading through lead, and sometimes it’s both of those things. But sometimes, I’ll be writing away like a robot and suddenly the ideas will come and I’ll quickly jot down those ideas, replacing the boring ones I listed when I was feeling resistant. Just showing up gets the work done.

So, for a week or so, forget the rules, forget the rituals, forget the tried-and-tested, just trust the process. Show up and put it on the page. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it does have to be written down. When it’s written down, you have something to work with. There is no race to the finish line.

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Writing Workshops

The Write Place is so excited to be holding workshops in 2017 for writers across South Africa and hopefully the continent. We’re busy scouting out fantastic venues that will be conducive to writing. Please keep checking in or subscribe to our newsletter at thewriteplace@webmail.co.za so that you can be notified when we post entries, hold exciting workshops, or have special giveaways.