Everything changed after my son was born. Of course, I knew this would happen, I just couldn’t predict the shape it took. Three years ago I rocked my new baby to sleep one afternoon and found myself asking the question, deep down, I knew would surface eventually: How will I write?
I’ve found part of the answer in slow writing, which isn’t so much about reducing your speed, but reducing your scope. After all, even a writer who embodies this philosophy will occasionally have a bout of intense writing sessions, words overflowing and all of that, or a deadline that requires a slight schedule deviation. The difference is, the slow writer is calculated and intentional, observing her energies, and in tune with far more than simply the page.
The slow writing path is welcome to all, yet we still need to push away branches and kick rocks away. A chorus is rising, though. More of us join in each day, trading songs of hustle and urgency for melodies of rest and contemplation. I very much like the sound of it.
What Is Slow Writing?
Here’s the way of the slow writer, as I’ve embodied it in my own life these past few years. The definition is loose, evolving, and malleable. I’ll continue to modify this description in future years as I learn more about the process and see it unfold in my own life. For now, this is what slow writing feels like.
A working definition of slow writing
Slow writing is rooted in the belief that less is more, that our writing careers are long, and there’s no rush, no race, or reason to push ourselves to the brink of exhaustion. Choosing slow writing means you resolve to pursue what’s most essential during the season you’re in, to care for your body and mind, and live a well-blended life—family, work, writing, and the rest of it.
A more succinct definition of slow writing might be this: not doing all the things.
Slow writing is also about protection. Your time, your energy, and your health are precious assets. They are not renewable resources.
Slow writing is a lifestyle (not to be confused with slow writing the exercise, which offers prompts that force you to slow down). But embracing a slow writing mindset doesn’t mean you can’t draft something swiftly.
Slow writing requires choices to be made, especially around your time. These aren’t easy conversations to have with yourself, or simple realizations to make. Setting aside things you want to write takes courage. Ease your way in, feel around, be frustrated if you need to. Only then will you eventually sink into the freedom that comes with getting clear on what’s most important, and letting the rest go (even temporarily).
Slow Writing Inspiration
From food to fashion, here are a few pioneers whose philosophies are good places to take inspiration when you’re feeling the pull to speed up.
For me, an interest in slow writing started with the slow food movement. After watching the documentary Food, Inc., my husband and I started shifting our eating habits—less meat but better quality, farmers’ market produce whenever possible, organic/non-GMO, etc. Sustainability in agriculture (at least in California) was pioneered by Alice Waters in the 1960s, when she worked with local farmers to produce seasonal, vegetable-forward menus for her Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse.
“Our full humanity is contingent on our hospitality; we can be complete only when we are giving something away; when we sit at the table and pass the peas to the person next to us we see that person in a whole new way.” —Alice Waters
Kate’s an author and entrepreneur, and her “do less” philosophy has resonated with me from the start. In a digital age that makes you feel behind before getting out of bed in the morning, Kate’s approach is a refreshing way to move through the world.
“When you do less, you have more energy, time, and enthusiasm for the things that matter the most to you. And focusing in on those catapults your results in ways that feel miraculous but turn out to be a logical result of giving what matters your attention.”
Are you a blogger? UK-based creative coach Jen Carrington has some advice: quality over quantity. That means you don’t have to publish new posts twice a week, upload new Instagram posts every day, or anything else you feel like you should do in the online space.
“If your intentions behind your blog are to create with purpose, drive, and direction, taking a quality over quantity approach may give you the space you need to really create.”
From her Nashville studio, Liz Pape has built a community around her sustainable fashion brand, Elizabeth Suzann. That means pieces are handmade, waits are long (upwards of six weeks), and new designs are intentionally created. Time and time again, Liz has chosen to grow her business slowly—delaying seasonal launches, only accepting as many orders per week as her team can handle, and so on.
“I think... women in general, specifically women who are making things and working, need to be able to move and think. They need to be unhindered and unobstructed in doing their most important work.”
How to Embrace Slow Writing
Most writers I know come to slow writing by way of crisis or circumstance. They’ve burned themselves out, only to realize they can’t go on. Or they have children, only to realize they can’t write as much as they used to, as part of their devotion now lies elsewhere.
It’s true that slow writing might not be the most natural way of being, at least at first. We have to ease into it, and need a community around us that supports us. It should be natural, but we live tethered to our phones and computer screens. News cycles are fast and furious. There are low levels of fear, anxiety, and overwhelm hovering. We have trouble sleeping, or hearing ourselves think. And where is our voice? It’s imperative that we access it, and slow writing can help.
I wasn’t always so evangelical about slow writing, but in 2016, I read a book called Essentialism, which I have a habit of recommending to everyone. I’ve talked about it on podcasts, in my newsletter, and it’s usually part of the answer anytime I’m asked about how I’ve managed to accomplish what I have so far.
I was coming off a year of burnout, mostly due to a difficult job working with people who drained my energy. As a new mother, I rapidly discovered how important it was to conserve what little energy I had so I could use it for my family and occasionally, my writing.
The way of the essentialist can be summed up in three words: “less but better.” The philosophy can weave its way into all aspects of your life—your career, your belongings, your relationships, and as I’ve found, your creativity.
Knowing I’d need a new way forward if I wanted to continue writing without sacrificing my sleep, my sanity, and my family life. (Not to mention my full-time job), something needed to change. So I took a step back and assessed everything I was doing—from freelancing to blogging to book writing to reading —and figured out what was most important in that season.
It was six months before my first book was set to be published. Through a mountain of sticky notes rearranged on my wall for several days, I understood the path I needed to walk down: book promotion. My hope was to write more books, which I realized wouldn’t happen if the first one didn’t sell, so it meant setting aside some other work—mostly freelance opportunities, plus a bloggers’ collective called The Giving Table, some social media platforms (RIP Twitter).
This slow and steady approach helps you honor the season you’re in. The most essential thing today might not be the most essential a year from now, which is good news as far as I’m concerned, because it means we’ll change and grow at just the right pace.
A Slow Writing Manifesto
Here’s what I believe about slow writing, and the pillars I follow in my own life.
01 | First comes the body
I once resented needing to choose exercise over writing, but I’ve come to learn that without putting my body first, the words rarely follow. Our body makes all things possible. If you’re staying up late to write and sacrificing sleep, rest. If you have the option to spend an hour in yoga or an hour in front of the computer, stretch. I spend less time writing than ever, but the time I do give is richer and more productive because my body and mind are open.
02 | One thing at a time
This mantra is available to anyone, anytime. Stick it on your bathroom mirror, write it in your journal, and repeat it to yourself anytime you start feeling overwhelmed.
03 | Stay the road
A writing career is long. Cultivating a sustainable writing life means you can maintain momentum for months and years. It’s not about output, but growth over the long-term.
04 | Comparison is the enemy of creativity
Each journey is unique, and while we can always learn from one another, there’s no sense in comparing our circumstances to another writer who, from the outside, appears to have it more together, or who has published more books, or has a more popular blog. We never know the whole story.
Like anything worth doing, slow writing is a practice. Some days will feel easy, others will feel frustrating, I can promise you that. But in support of your sanity, slow writing is the way.