In a series of conversational observations and meditations on the writing process, The Art of Slow Writing examines the benefits of writing slowly. DeSalvo advises her readers to explore their creative process on deeper levels by getting to know themselves and their stories more fully over a longer period of time.
Virginia Woolf, author of To the Lighthouse
Woolf remembered how she’d ‘made up The Lighthouse one afternoon in the square here’ (Tavistock Square in London). In her memoir ‘A Sketch of the Past’ (1939), Woolf recalled how ‘one day walking round Tavistock Square I made up, as I sometimes make up my books, To the Lighthouse; in a great, apparently involuntary, rush. One thing burst into another. Blowing bubbles out of a pipe gives the feeling of the rapid crowd of ideas and scenes which blew out of my mind.
While Woolf walked, and relaxed, and turned her mind to the sights she was seeing–‘The greed of my eye is insatiable,’ she said–she entered that receptive, passive, meditative, yet alert state that created the optimum condition for the inspiration for a new work to surface in enormous detail. And Woolf trained herself to be alert to when that process was ocurring, so that she could capture it, remember it, and record it.
Robert Stone, author of Outerbridge Reach
He finds that movement helps him when he’s writing: ‘I pace a lot’, he says. Part of Stone’s process involves working freely, which is risky–‘You have to be able to surprise yourself.’
Stone makes a short list of subjects indicating a very loose sequence: he says ‘I know the beginning and usually the end. My problem is the middle.’
To work in such an open-ended way, Stone believes that it’s essential for a writer to work to ‘eliminate self-consciousness’–this doesn’t come naturally and must be cultivated. The more consciously a writer works, Stone believes, ‘the more difficult it is’ to create. Stone’s solution is to ‘do a lot of walking. I really like walking and I do a lot of thinking when I walk.’
But as he thinks, Stone doesn’t ruminate about his work; instead, he tries to let ‘the story take over’, surrendering and becoming involved in the process. Stone believes that a writer can’t be outside the work, ‘constructing it consciously, self-consciously, moment by moment.’ Instead, ‘You’ve got to let your imagination go. And begin to hear voices, figuratively speaking…Beguile yourself. Entertain yourself. And keep yourself inside it.’ Or, as Stone says, it’s important to ‘(R) into the story.’
I once met a full-time writer who told me he walked to work but that he wrote at home.
‘You walk to work?’ I asked, perplexed. ‘But you write at home?’
Each day, after breakfast, this writer walks his kids to school, returns home, takes a shower, dresses in a nicer clothes than the sweats he wears when he drops his kids off, goes back ourside, and walks back to his house to work. He walks the same route each day, around the block, past a newstand where he buys a paper, past a deli where he buys himself a cup of coffee, and past a vegetable stand where he picks something up for supper. His walk takes fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. On his walk, he sees people on their way to work; he’s walking to work, just like them, and it makes him feel professional.
By the time he reaches his desk, he told me, he always knows what he needs to do next. On his walk, he’s unlocked a puzzle in a chapter, or imagined a scene–sometimes, even, a whole book.