Don’t Panic: Slow writing in the new publishing landscape

Many movements have taken on the concept of slow, the most prominent being the Slow Food movement. The idea of slow is to take more time, to deliberate more, to savour, to give depths to moments of endeavour and enjoyment. This idea has much in common with the concept of mindfulness, an attentive awareness of experiences in the present moment, a concept that is rooted in the Buddhist tradition and a technique that is being used more and more in alleviating mental health issues.

In many ways mindfulness and the concept of slow is the opposite of panic and the manic. James Gleick’s book Faster explores the science and issues around our perception of time and it’s lack. I’m of an age and background where I once lived a slow life (sometimes too slow!) and am now embracing the fast technologies and communication methods of this technological era. My children don’t know any different, sometimes I need to help them be bored.

How does this relate to writing? Well I must admit I’m writing this as a backlash to a rather frenetic week following the online launch of my book. I’ve become aware of some of the realities of what’s going on in the self-publishing world but also in the traditional publishing arena as well. There seems to be this push in certain quarters in order to make a ‘success’ of self-publishing to suggest that we need to be churning out several books a year. Similarly I read of a high profile thriller writer who is a marketing entity with co-authors who write many of the books. Perhaps I shouldn’t jump the other way. It’s one way of doing things and many people get pleasure from these series of books. My other experience of fast was that of KDP Select free days where self-published writers vye, giving their book away for free to get into the top rankings on Amazon in order to gain visibility and sales. It all seems a bit manic and crazy although it has been successful for some.

I don’t want to be naïve but on a personal level I want to write books that are layered and well thought out. I want to develop trust with my readers and offer them quality and an enduring experience when they read my books. I am short of time like everyone. I have a young family and constant interruptions of the kind of slow musings that are necessary to make original connections and find new ways of saying old things. But I want to try. I want to stop and make time for research. I want to let books simmer over years until I’ve found the right way of saying something. This balanced with the knowledge that sometimes you need to start writing to find a way into a piece and this tempered with the reality that you need to write regularly just to practise and to give yourself the clay to work with. It’s all about that balance. If feeling panicked and under pressure, particularly when you see the achievements of others, that is just the time to stop and wait and find out what you really want to write, not what you should write. By forcing and pushing we can end up hating our writing and the book we are working on. It’s our mind’s way of telling us that we need more time to dwell and deliberate. Maybe it means we wait before we send off our manuscripts and we can look one more time on the finished product with clarity and this is particularly important when self-publishing. Not just anything will do. Even if we hire an editor we may not get the same heavy level of editor involvement in our product, we need to go slowly to get it right.

This is the first of a series I’ll write about slow. And in doing so I’ll also celebrate the fast, the quick connections, the times when we can find fast answers when we need them, check in with other writers on Twitter for a quick motivation fix. But I want to find a way to get the panic out of writing in this publishing landscape that is new and challenging. I want to find ways that quality can prevail and ways that the writer can stay sane as they pursue the endeavour they love.

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9 comments

  1. I agree, Alison. There’s too much rush in this world, and that’s fine if you’re writing commercial fiction, there is definitely a rush to get out several books a year. I don’t think we should all be pressured into thinking this is the way to success – and also, define successs!

  2. Ha, this chimes with a post I wrote this morning about slower reading and how our reading expectations have been changed over time.
    I’ve been watching the same sorts of things, with dismay and with bewilderment. I see those who see the best way to promote is get more books out FAST. I simply don’t know what to do or think because all the information is contradictory.
    I have a fairly large back catalogue of books that are already written but I am in no huge hurry to get them out.
    I’m trying to take things at the right pace.
    great post. thank you.

  3. It can all feel like madness sometimes – but you are completely right. The journey of being creative, whether it’s in writing or any other form of creativity is more about moulding than pushing forward. All the other stuff, promotion, connections, ways of reaching your audience, they are simply window dressing, and there’s no point having a lovely window with nothing substanctial behind it.
    Back out of my hibernation today- will go slowly!!!!

  4. Whether I like it or not, I do write slowly! One book a year and a couple of short stories will have to do 😉 It’s nice to know I’m not the only one, some days the pressure to rush is nearly overwhelming.

  5. I’ve only just found this post, Alison, but I absolutely agree with you. Having to write something fast when I know it’s not the story I want to tell drives me crazy. It’s frustrating and disappointing. I’ve been editing my current novel in progress for 6 months now and I’m still not done. Thank goodness I don’t have a deadline. I’m never going to be a two books a year girl…

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