“The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity”

October 7, 2014

I’ve been gone for a very long time. And during this time, I’ve been turning this blog into a book. Well, today is publication day: “The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft and Creativity” is now out from St. Martin’s Press. You can ask for it at your local bookstore or your favorite online provider.

Thank you to all the people who read this blog while I was refining this book. I thought I was finished and all I needed to do was turn the blogs into a book. But, as other bloggers have learned, a blog post is different from a piece of a book. And so there was a lot of revision to do. I first made a provisional manuscript, then with the help of my agent, Joanne Wyckoff, I figured out what the book was really about. That didn’t happen until about the third draft. Then there was the hard work of the Introduction which took the better part of a summer, then another draft, then still another, and another.

Throughout the process, I was continually reminded of how long it takes for a draft of a book to become a book. All the hard work of rethinking, reframing, recasting, rewriting, writing new material. Then there’s responding to the queries of an agent, an editor, a copyeditor. During this process, my editor, Daniella Rapp, at St. Martin’s, knew exactly what she wanted from me, and so it helped.

My agent, Joanne Wyckoff, said early on that I had to really consider what I meant by “slow writing” and why that concept would be important for a beginning writer or a seasoned writer to understand. Essentially it’s quite simply this. In our hurry-up world, many of us think that the only good work is work that can be quickly done. But in fact many famous writers, both those we think of as “classic” writers, and contemporary writers have taken a very long time to perfect their craft and write their books. And Wyckoff also said that I needed to include the stories of contemporary writers. Which I did.

The period when I read interviews–many of them in the Paris Review–to gather material about how long it took for writers to become writers, how long it took them for writers to write an important work, how many revisions they went through, thier failures and missteps–was sublime. I love learning about how “real” writers work. And I continue to believe that all writers will be helped if they do know.

I’m proud of this book. Proud that I began it during a tough patch in my own writing life. Proud that I kept at it after cancer treatment. Proud of what it stands for: my hope that it will help writers bring works of art to fruition by learning that others like them have gone through difficulties, too.

Margaux Fragoso, author of Tiger, Tiger has said, “I want to hand a copy to every writer I know and every writer I don’t know.”

Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of  Orphan Train has said, “As I read, I found myself underlining, dog-earing pages, writing notes in the margin, inspired by DeSalvo’s passion and focus.”

Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, has said, “The Art of Slow Writing will free the reader, whether aspiring or seasoned, from the isolation, panic, and self-doubt that comes with the calling, but more than that, for all lovers of literature, this book is itself a treasure of a story.”

And Kathryn Harrison has said, “Whether in the classroom or on the page, DeSalvo is that rare teacher who is both exacting and inspiring.”

A big thank you to all of who have supported my work on this fine day. And now for a glass of champagne!

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12 Responses to ““The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity””

  1. Tina Neyer Says:

    Deat Louise, Congratulations! I have missed seeing the blog posts and am glad to know that this often frustrating thing I’ve chosen to do is supported by your book’s content. I will welcome a read of it once I purchase it.

  2. Myree Says:

    Heartfelt congratulations Lousie, on birthing your new beautiful book into the world. I
    Look forward to reading and sharing it.

  3. Katherine Says:

    Huge congratulations on the new book! I’ve missed your blog posts and wondered how you were doing so I’m thrilled about what the results of your absence are! I’m between drafts one and two of a new book and I totally hear you about the necessity for and wisdom of slow.
    Katherine

  4. Tim Elhajj Says:

    Congratulations Louise! I look forward to reading the new work. I can certainly relate to “slow writing.”

  5. Anna Says:

    Dear Louise: After checking this blog every couple of months for the past two years, I was becoming more and more discouraged about your situation, knowing of your health challenges. I am overjoyed to hear about your new book, which I shall obtain as soon as I have finished this response, and even happier to know that you are still alive! Writing as a Way of Healing has been my steady companion as I deal with my own life and writing project (two different enterprises but, of course, linked). I am sure that The Art of Slow Writing will become as good a friend and guide. Welcome back, and congratulations!

  6. Ardis Says:

    Louise, I am so glad to have stumbled upon your blog today. I was looking for a quote from your book “Writing as a Way of Healing.” I’m speaking at a recovery meeting tonight and will be sharing the quote (about not writing erasing who we are). That quote was shared with me by my memoir writing teacher when I first started writing, and didn’t feel good enough or worthy to write. It made all the difference in my following my writing dreams–first for myself and now for others. Congrats on the new book. It sounds like just what I need as I am feeling a sense of urgency to start a new writing project.

  7. Amy Says:

    Louise, I read your book cover to cover after getting it from the library, and it was so wonderful I bought my own copy before I even finished reading my library copy. (I discovered it when I read the excerpt in Poets & Writers) My copy is marked up all over the place! I shared my enthusiasm for your book with my writing group and urged them to get it, because it’s not like any other craft book I’ve ever read.

    I also wanted to thank you for the chapters you wrote about finishing a book after having set it aside; I’ve been working on my first novel for four years and through six drafts, but I’ve known this past year that it still wasn’t right. I didn’t know what to do with it or how to fix it. I set it aside, with a lot of frustration and sadness, and began work on a second novel while also working on several essays; I haven’t really done anything with it all year. It’s been niggling at me, that first novel, and after reading your book, I’ve learned so much about how to tackle the mess I have on my hands. I finished your book last night and had something of an epiphany: I need to rewrite the whole thing, start to finish, while saving some key elements and scenes. I never even knew that was an option until I read of other writers doing that very thing. I’m both exhilarated and terrified when I think of all the work ahead of me, but it feels SO much better than ignoring it and feeling awful because it’s not finished. Your statement about the inevitability of winding up in the exact same situation with another book really hit home.

    Anyway, this is getting quite long-winded, but I had to thank you for giving me guidance through your book. I’m so grateful for all I’ve learned and am looking forward to many new adventures in my writing, thanks to you!


  8. I found your book at Barnes and Noble today and HAD to buy it. I get so tired of this chaotic world and the rush to hurry and get things done. I am so much happier when I slow down and enjoy life…and that goes for my writing, too. I am not a fast writer. It takes me awhile to really work through my plots and the themes I want to explore. The world tends to tell me that I need to produce as fast as possible, but I can’t do that and have a book I can be proud of. I started reading your book tonight and already I feel like someone finally understands me. 🙂

  9. Margaux Fragoso Says:

    Louise,

    Reading your book a second time this past week, I have to say I feel like it saved my little personal writing ship from sinking into off into the dark. I’ve been working on a novel for a good five years now, I’d say, three full length drafts and onto number 4 and have made so many mistakes and felt like there was so much wasted time, I felt like giving up. Truly. The frustration was really mounting, become nearly unbearable.

    My father used to stay “Stop dragging your feet.” Teachers would insist on receiving back tests before I had time to think things through. I like to make my way slowly through life and process my world at my own pace and that is not usually considered a virtue, despite the famous story of the tortoise and the hare. In a “publish or perish” world, too, we’re encouraged to move as though we’re on Wall Street, not delicately constructing our lives’ work as we should–as a spider builds a web. All the emphasis on publication and outside recognition often inhibits the most talented people in the MFA programs and I’m sure the rush is preventing the publication of many great novels–as people feel pressured to rush them out–so they can get a teaching job and support themselves as nowadays it is impossible to get an academic job without at least one book and sometimes not even then. This is a real problem for writers, and for the future of literature.

    We say patience is a virtue: do we honor it? I’ve felt like I’ve received ten complaints for my speed (or lack thereof) for every one compliment and usually I only get complimented for taking my time when it has involved my patience when caring for young children and in a maternal role. It’s only then, it seems a virtue to people and they say, “Wow, you are unusually patient.” It makes me think speed versus slowness is a gendered concept as lack of speed seems valued only in traditionally female pusuits, such as childrearing.

    Yesterday, I felt like had some pretty major breakthroughs (in part due to the masterful editing of my former student and friend Nancy Caldwell, editing which really helped me “see” the work afresh and problem solve).

    That is what makes your book so unique and why in a moment of sheer desperation I tell myself, “Margaux, Louise says this is what it’s supposed to be like before the big breakthrough.”

    And instead of the usual panic to try to produce x amount of writing and to solve all my problems at once, yesterday morning I gave myself a gift. A walk in Neighborwoods (a nature spot with swampland) with my daughter. As we walked I saw the magnificent shiny turtles sunning on logs, one by one, they dropped into the swamp until only the bravest remained. As well as an alligator and blue heron getting warm too, and not worrying about how long they spent there, or rushing off to their next task. And the white egrets who actually look fake, that’s how still they stand. When they do move, usually to fish, they are so nimble, so quiet that they catch what they need without a fuss.

    When I went home, I had tons of new ideas to solve the problems that have so dogged my book.


  10. Howdy! I found your book The Art of Slow Writing at the bookstore the other day, and I have been loving it. I have been trying to blog my way to a memoir of my time on a Backcountry trail crew in Yosemite. I think your book is going to help me get there. Thank you so much!


  11. I just ordered your new book last night and eagerly await reading it. I am re-reading “Writing as a Way of Healing” as I find it filled with guidance toward writing those difficult stories. In January I will be taking a six month long memoir writing course in a full out effort to finally write the stories that need to be shared and your book is helping in that regard. I am also a certified Journal Writing Instructor and I gain much knowledge from your book to use when teaching classes. Wishing you luck with your new book.


  12. […] in 2014 are definitely a symbol of time well-spent.  Still, when I read Louise DeSalvo’s book The Art of Slow Writing, I realized that if I wanted to write more, and better, maybe I was going to have to give up some […]


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