Slow Writing: Julia Alvarez on the craft of writing

# 1. What is slow writing?

What is slow writing? I wish I knew.

I have some intuitions, some inklings, a deep as-of-yet unverbalized knowing of what I mean. When I thought up the phrase, I had an instant gut feeling of, yes! that's the name for most of what I know about writing.

I'm going to try to discover what slow writing is slowly, by writing about it. I want to take you on this journey. I've always loved that little poem by Robert Frost, "The Pasture," in which he describes the chores he's about to do and then ends each of the two stanzas with an invitation, "You come, too."

It sounds so casual. Come along, why don't you? And yet, your coming is vital to the transaction of the poem, even if not to the actual doing of the chores. You must come, too, for any piece of writing to ever work. Without you, reader, where would I be? A dead object on a dusty shelf somewhere. Most of the writing and the reading we do is about that thrilling connection that can occur with a reader when we write or with a writer when we read a book we love.

In Pablo Milanés' beautiful love song, "Yolanda," he writes about how now that he has found his great love, "mi soledad se siente acompañada," my solitude feels accompanied. When we are engaged in a piece of writing, either as author or reader, our great mortal solitude which began with that first rupture from our mothers, a rupture and disruption that never totally heals, our solitude feels accompanied. Slow writing heals that rift, albeit temporarily. What Frost said about poetry is true of all good writing, it offers a momentary stay against confusion, against our isolation, that sense that we are ultimately alone and adrift in a terrifying chaotic meaningless universe.

Slow writing is about taking the time to craft the writing so it is good company. So it does for the reader what you want it to do. And craft takes time to acquire and time to execute.

That is why as writers it's always a good idea to put away a piece of writing until the beautiful coating of our own reflection fades. We have to become the reader of what we have written to see if it achieves what we intended as the writer. That shift initiates the process of revision. And revision leads us back to craft. Again we immerse ourselves in the writing, again we put it away, again we come back to it, until slowly by slowly, we have crafted it into a piece we want to publish or post or read to someone else.

On this journey to discover what slow writing is, you won't have to hang on to your hats as this won't be a fast ride. We're taking our time. After all, the discoveries here have to be meaningful to you as well. So, this will be a slow blog, a slog, or even better a slug.

Already, my solitude feels accompanied with the thought that you might be coming, too.

Julia Alvarez
June 15, 2009
3 blades of grass
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una babosa -- a slug at Alta Gracia in the Dominican Republic
una babosa
a slug at Alta Gracia in the Dominican Republic

Slow Writing: Julia Alvarez on the craft of writing
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