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.

Writing and Publishing: Who makes the rules anyway?

In the world of writing there are many rules; almost as many rules as there are for parenting. There are rules for grammar, structure, plot, point of view, narrative, character, use of adverbs, length, genre. There are rules for writing regimes, how often and when. There are rules for raising your profile, gaining an audience, social networking. There are submission rules, how to find an agent rules, how to find a publisher rules and how to be commercial rules.

Rules are good. Rules are helpful. Rules are there for a reason. They stabilize society. They streamline processes, they make books marketable, they help you make the most effective use of your time, they help you to become a better writer.

Rule-consciousness is one of Cattell’s sixteen traits of his personality trait theory. How rule bound you are is sometimes measured on personality tests determining your suitability for certain kinds of employment. You may be the kind of person that is susceptible to social or peer pressures. Or as an artist – are you a free thinker, an experimentalist, a subvertor of convention, a mould breaker?

As a parent, as a writer, I want to fit in. I want my children to be accepted among their peers. As a writer I want my books at some point to be read and enjoyed, to make sense to people. But also I don’t want to be caught in the river of the done thing. I don’t want to spend a fortune on my child’s birthday party because every one else is doing it. I want to write from my gut first and foremost, dare to say no to convention and create something that will inspire.

The rules are changing in publishing. E-books and self-publishing, blog posting fiction are now a way of reaching an audience, not just an alternative to conventional publishing. This may lead to greater democracy, rule bending, the breaking down of categories, where the reader now rules. This may be the time when we can be the writers we want to be, using the rules to guide but not dictate, to give coherence but not stifle, to ensure quality but provide freedom.