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 Rachel Marie Stone, John Wilson, Leslie Leland Fields, and Chris Smith 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.