Slow food … and slow-burn writing

This week, AJ had a bunch of teeth taken out, because she (like Allergy Boy and Yours Truly) has massive overcrowding, and there’s even one tooth going north, making her worry she might look a bit Edward-Cullen-on-a-dark-night.

Spinach soup with bone brothAs a result of that, I had to do a spot of ‘displacement‘. Displacement is a term Charlie Gilkey, of Productive Flourishing, uses to describe tasks that get bumped down the queue to be replaced with other, more pressing tasks. Like taking care of a bruised teenager.

One of the tasks I displaced this and last week was polishing a final draft of my literary fiction manuscript to send to the gals at Triskele Books, because I’m hoping to be able to publish with them in November. It’s an exciting prospect for me, since this book has been floating around my desktop and archive for nearly 10 years now, and it was just earlier this year that I decided to finally publish.

As I was trying not to feel shitty that I couldn’t write because I was running to the shops for pain killers and mashing vegetables and making soup and so-on, I decided to go with the cooking process—slow as it may be—and occasionally listen to some podcasts.

One was a discussion between Joanna Penn and Steven Pressfield. It was a great discussion, ranging from religion and the political climate in Israel to creativity and professionalism as a writer. The latter point was interesting for me in my current situation. Steven’s view is that the difference between amateur and pro writers is that a pro will just keep writing every day, regardless of the set-backs and daily obstacles.

Now I’ve been around and around with this argument in my head before, and one of the things I keep coming back to is that dichotomy between ‘life’ and ‘writing’. How much life and how much writing?

For me, it varies from project to project, from life cycle to life cycle. There are times when my kids need me on board and there are times when I need to steam-roll my way to the finish line on my writing projects, regardless of how many disgusting dinners I don’t have time to make, and complaining family members I don’t have time to listen to. There are times when I work deeply and regularly on a project, and there are times when I need to do something completely different.

Some people call these oscillation phases being open and closed, or learning and assimilating. Folks who believe in numerology, chakras, Waldorf, Traditional Chinese Medicine talk about 7 year phases in life. Austin Kleon, in his book ‘Show Your Work’, talks about designers and thinkers taking sabbaticals or ‘time off’.

I’ve been writing fiction for 2o years, and I know from experience that sometimes it takes a stupidly long time to write a piece of fiction, short or long. 

Why?

Because sometimes our ideas need time to percolate.

Just as ‘slow food’ is a ‘thing’, so is ‘slow writing’.

Because I’ve been working on a work of lit fic for some time now, I’ve thought about what some of the elements of a work of literary fiction could include. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. to be in dialogue with works that have come before;
  2. to challenge the form; and
  3. perhaps (as Steve Almond has said) a moral element—a social responsibility, to challenge and provoke a conscience in societies and cultures.

I say all this to remind myself that it’s okay to be a slow writer, of course, but also to remind my fellow writers to live life to the fullest. To taste the slow-cooked soup, so you don’t burn out, but rather keep the embers aglow.

 

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