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An Invitation to Slow Work

 

At the Festival of Faith and Writing I happily found myself in a session titled “Slow Reading.” I joked to a couple of friends on my way to the session that my whole reason for going was to make myself feel better about my inability to read anything half as fast as most of my peers.

It’s true. I’m a slow reader. The idea of finishing a book in a week (even if I were to read an hour a day) is incomprehensible. Part of that is the season of my life. I’m a mom and a writer whose work demands more and more of my time. Leisurely reading is harder and harder to come by. But also, I simply like to say words one at a time in my head. I like to take my time. I love how sentences are put together and I like to pay attention to their form.

This session was not really a conversation about why we should all be slow readers. It was more a conversation about the value of taking our time, of enjoying words, of rebelling against the frantic speed of our culture.

I listened to , , , and talk about how we writers are generating four times as much content into the world in half the time. I wasn’t shocked to hear that statistic. I had just come off my book’s release week and was physically shaken by the amount I had written in the weeks leading up to it. Every time I thought about pulling back and not publishing a piece, my inner-hard worker assured me that if I didn’t put my words all over the interwebs no one would read my book. It was up to me to make my book sell. And I had one week to do it.

Leslie Leland Fields spoke passionately to the frantic writer voice in my head. She explained how, as a culture of writers, our response to the amount of content on the web has been to write louder and faster, to make ourselves heard. “Behind all of this is fear,” she said. “Fear that we will disappear when we stop performing.”

I felt myself sigh. I have gone back and forth about this for years. I have gone through seasons of publishing five posts a week on my blog only for readership to stay relatively the same. I have pushed myself to use social media more strategically. And still, my reach has remained moderate. The platform sometimes builds, but mostly it plateaus. Is that all I’m writing for? The platform? Am I simply performing because I’m afraid I’m not as loud as the other voices around me?

In my quietest, most anxious moments, I run through ideas of what other media outlets I could pitch an article to, how I can get my words out there, and in doing so, convince people to pick up my book. But in those moments of wild ideas, I remember, I’m tired. I’m one person. I’m doing all I can in this season of my life.

“We must slow down,” Leslie Leland Fields said. “Marinate. Say no. Do we really have something worthwhile to say every day? We’re losing our way when nothing matters but the deadline.”

I write all the time about the spiritual practice of slowing down in my non-writing life. I share about the importance of being present with my kids and living at their pace and in their world. But then I run off to my writing space and pound out words frantically, striving to make my career fit into the few hours allotted each day.

I’m beginning to recognize the way I work as another manifestation of my need to be impressive. I’m beginning to recognize how desperately I need God to slow my work down to match the rest of my life.

I need to acknowledge that there comes a point when no matter how hard I work, I have to relinquish my control.

Really, I have  control of one thing, my craftsmanship. “Write to pierce hearts and enflame minds,” Fields said. “Make your [work] worth every minute of your readers’ time.”

 

What about you? Where are you working frantically? What might it mean to embrace slowness in your daily work?

 

 

*I quote these words from the notes I took at the Festival of Faith and Writing. I believe them to be all from Leslie Leland Fields and I hope I took the words down correctly. It’s completely possible, however, that the quoted words came from one of the other three in the panel or that I took them down differently than they were said.

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  • “Behind all of this is fear,” she said. “Fear that we will disappear when we stop performing.” Oh, I know that feeling.

    I’m just starting to write about FFW. And I hope, too, that my quotes are correct. I’ll take comfort in knowing that’s how they pierced me. 🙂

    • michaboyett

      Yes that quote is so convicting, isn’t it? Where is the balance of the good fear that makes you work hard and the bad fear that makes you never stop working? That’s the question, huh?

  • Abby Norman

    And here I thought I was the only one…..

    • michaboyett

      GIRL. I’m starting to seriously consider forming a wholehearted blogging network. Although, who has time for that? 🙁

      • MsLorretty

        ummmmm Me?

  • oh my. I wish I had been there to hear this. Yes, I love this, it resonates so deep with me this season. S L O W…that is where I am headed these days. It’s scary in the best of ways.

    • michaboyett

      It is so scary. Thanks Kris.

  • Leslie Leyland Fields

    Micha—-“Fear not!” Your quotes are pretty right on. Here’s a post that I wrote on the topic a few months ago, (My spoken comments at FFW are slightly different): ‘The Slow-Writing Revolt”http://wordservewatercooler.com/2014/02/19/the-slow-writing-revolt/

    • michaboyett

      Loved this piece, Leslie! You quoted yourself almost spot on during the session…and it was coming straight from the place where you’d been “marinating” on all this. Marination leads to conviction! I can’t stop thinking about these things. Thanks so much for chiming in and for sharing…

    • I remember that piece well – I read it slowly and it made a DEEP impact 🙂

  • Love this, Micha.

    • michaboyett

      Thank you, Lore. Grateful you’re there with me.

  • I’m so glad you took time to write about this session, Micha. While I don’t regret going to the session I chose instead, I wish I could have gone to this one too. Feeling myself take deeper breaths after hearing your thoughts. There’s so much slowness to my non-blog writing and while I know that’s where I need to devote my energy, it’s tempting to focus on the blog instead so I can stay relevant. There’s a both/and in there somewhere and perhaps I’ll figure out the balance eventually. But for now, it’s time to look toward my book project and focus on my craft.

    • michaboyett

      Yes. That idea of staying “relevant” is really crippling to me. And I’m not sure what to do about it. And how much that need is in my head and not in reality.

  • Oh, I needed to hear this today, Micha. Thank you.

    • michaboyett

      You are welcome, Heather. So glad to be in this with you.

  • Micha, They will write textbooks on this online writing craze someday. In the meantime, we pioneer. I remind myself, often, to write because I like it and God calls me to share. And God works in the results. Keep reminding us to keep our priorities straight.

    • michaboyett

      Yes. That is so true. This blog thing is unreal and surely time will straighten it out. Right? Or else robots will start writing instead of poets. Sigh.

  • Thanks for this, Micha. Sometimes (most often, really) I’m not so good at giving myself permission to receive what I know I really need, and slowness is definitely what my heart is yearning for in this season. Your words remind me that I’m not alone.

    • michaboyett

      Grateful to hear that, Lacy.

  • pastordt

    I love this. A lot. Because my platform, whatever the heck that is, is a whole lot smaller than yours, or most others I know. So I often feel overwhelmed with wondering if I should keep at it. Slowing down appeals to me. Thanks.

    • michaboyett

      Yes. I hear you. To quote Adam McHugh on Twitter yesterday: “am becoming more convinced that the internet is not a good medium of expression for those of us with slow and quiet souls.”

      • THank you for adding this quote to your most timely and encouraging post.

  • Chris Malkemes

    Thank you for sharing this. We need to stop. look around. relinquish all control of self. Let Him in. Watch what happens IT IS POWERFUL. Read God’s word slowly and hear the beat of His heartbeat. It is intimate. It is real. It is holy reading. It is holy prayer: http://www.chrismalkemes.com/prayer.html

    • michaboyett

      Thanks Chris.

  • These whispers, to slow, to trust Him more with my time, with the order of my day, with the work He has for me to do, are so appreciated. Thank you, Micha. I live not too far away from you, on the peninsula. I was sorry to have missed you when you can to MPPC two weeks ago.

  • John D Blase

    Thanks, Micha. This really strikes the low chord with me. I think about writers like Marilynne Robinson who wrote Housekeeping then went umpteen years before Gilead was released and I think about the economy of those books, not a word wasted, and how that could only have come by way of slowness and waiting and ‘marinating.’

    I agree with you, its about fear/loss of control/not hanging with the cool kids/whatever. It really does speak volumes about our faith though, and I’m afraid it doesn’t speak well. Its like Rabbit from the Pooh books, always running around, busy, busy, busy…I cannot stand Rabbit.
    ~ John

    • MsLorretty

      I’m beginning to think of my sort of writing and “marinating” as something akin to the whole food or paleo movement.. It just may be “cooler” to wave as the noisy crowd marches by– in circles, again and again– and to be taking the slower, steadier more sure-footed-er pace. Thanks for sharing this via FB. I needed this as much as my morning devotion.

  • Beautiful observations, Micha. It is so very easy to be caught up in the whirlwind of culture. And, as a reader of your blog, I am in full support of your work being slow.

    Praying for deep breaths and big cups of tea.

  • MsLorretty

    I am eternally grateful for this place and piece….this peace. I refuse to rush in where even angels fear to tread and only be adding to the noise and hype of the latest parade of bandwagons. I refuse to hurry it along. I’m thankful for the good company.

  • Hmm. I believe God does have something worthwhile to say every day. A. W. Tozer writes, “God is forever seeking to speak to His creation. The whole Bible supports the idea. God is speaking. Not God spoke, but God is speaking. He is by His nature continuously articulate. He fills the world with His speaking Voice.”

    And I believe God says something worthwhile TO US every day. And perhaps if we listen to him, and “write down the vision and make it plain,” we will really have something worthwhile to say every day.

    Which is not to say that we need to do so. I aim to blog every second day, or even every third day. Which is taxing enough!!

  • Goooooodnesss, Micah. I am feeling this piece. It is hitting me right where I am at and that feeling, that I’ll just disappear if I don’t stay consistent posting weekly, that is a deep-seated fear that has often made me resent blogging. Thank you for this post. So needed. Also, you are awesome!

  • shawnsmucker

    Beautiful post, Micha. I think it’s important to do the work, but I also find it reassuring to believe that if I’m supposed to have a larger platform, God will provide that platform. Sometimes I think we need to step back, acknowledge our incapability, and trust that the correct outcome will happen.

    Keep writing good stuff, at whatever pace works.

  • Wm. Anthony Connolly

    This so profoundly and beautifully hits home for me. As a writer with a book out and another on the way I worry and ponder over the pervasive idea that to exist as a writer is less about the book, but more about feeding a platform. I have come to the conclusion that for me this paradigm is unsustainable, inauthentic, and I will be closing all of my social networking sites by year’s end, will no longer seek publishing, but continue to write every day in my slow, meditative way.

  • Amy

    I’ve been feeling this a lot lately, like whenever I’m doing one thing, I’m feeling guilty about not doing something else. But as you are fond of saying, there is enough time. In my clearer moments I see myself slowly building something, brick by brick, word by word. I want to be in this for the long haul, like I’m helping to build a word cathedral that won’t be done for years and years. What a good word, Micha.

  • This is such a good reminder for me. It’s not just about hitting “publish”…as in the quote you mentioned, I want to make my work worth every minute of my readers’ time. “We’re losing our way when nothing matters but the deadline.” I feel like I have to find a balance somewhere in there…living in the tension, as I like to call it. I need to challenge myself, to give myself a nudge to keep moving and working, but I also want to remember that I want my work to be creative and I need to create space and quiet and rest in my work in order to do that. Living in that tension between quiet and rest for my soul, and keeping myself challenged and motivated to work hard.

    ps. I’m a slow reader, too! I blame it on being good at phonics and my teachers not seeing that I wasn’t comprehending well. Now, I just embrace it…I read at my pace, and I underline like crazy.

  • tinyandsmall

    yes. i’m frantically trying to peddle myself & my blog so that i get more readers so that. . .what? i was talking to my husband about getting more readers on my blog when my 8-year-old walked into the kitchen where we were & asked, “why do you want more readers?” yes, sweet sunshine, why is right. especially if it is at the cost of a slow life.
    thank you for writing this, for letting it be an okay thing to think.
    i am tired of the speed.

  • Kathy Schwanke

    I appreciated reading this from the other side. Feeling as if maybe I’ve missed the mark by not striving hard enough to enter the fray. Just plodding along, trusting that the Lord is moving me at His pace-and yet I wonder if I’m not assertive enough or zealous enough. But He reminds me that all my days are ordained for me before one of them came to be…and I rest again, continuing to do the next thing. Praying as I go, fuel the fire in me, stir the hunger for your will, make me willing…

  • pastordt

    Yes. And again, YES. Thanks, Micha. As usual, your wisdom (and your experience) speaks calmness and quiet into all the noise.

  • Jerusalem Greer

    This is exactly where I am. Dead on.

  • Lesley

    I’ve saved all your work/rest related posts and I’m re-reading them this morning. They have really spoken to my soul. Thank you, Micha. I hope you’re enjoying your summer offline. I miss your words, but I’m really happy for you and the decision to take time away.