Thursday, July 01, 2010

An Argument for Slow Writing

An English professor at the University of New Hampshire is promoting a movement to return to slow reading. Remember what that was like? When we read a paragraph and languished over how well it was composed? English teachers used to force us to read the actual book, flunking us if we got caught with Cliff Notes.

This professor equates reading today with fast food. Most people appreciate the taste of a well-prepared meal versus the drive through. Some eat so much fast food they forget what a stove looks like. The comparison isn't far removed from reading. Years back, teachers and libraries gave silver stars, gold stars, rewards of all shapes and sizes for reading the most books in a period of time. Kids interested in books learned to skim, reading them fast as greased bullets. And we wonder what happened to reading comprehension on aptitude tests.

Remember when we had to memorize entire pages? In middle school (junior high in my day), I entered literary competitions, memorizing poetry and presenting it in front of judges. I spent days memorizing The Raven. I still recall the opening of one other poem entitled "Which?":

Which shall it be? Which shall it be?

I looked at John--John looked at me;
Dear, patient John, who loves me yet
As well as though my locks were jet.
And when I found that I must speak,
My voice seemed strangely low and weak:
"Tell me again what Robert said!"
And then I, listening, bent my head.

My grandson not long ago had to memorize the opening of the Gettysburg address. He kept inserting his own words, omitting others. He recited it wrong a dozen times and sighed in frustration. "What does it matter?" he said, flustered. "It means the same."

In a calm, grandmotherly tone, I explained how hard that writer strived to make each word carry weight, to deliver the message in its best form. As Lincoln stood on that podium, graves of blue as well as gray soldiers spread to the side of where he spoke, he delivered a heavy message. I told my grandson he had the responsiblity to memorize the speech verbatim, to respect the writer as well as the audience who heard it and the dead soldiers it referenced.

Writing is meant to happen in slow motion as well. Rushing to put words on paper so we can see our names in bylines or on spines, is insolent, irreverant and disrespectful to those who published classics before us . . . to those who publish bestsellers today. To appreciate writing, one must slave over it . . . so that the readers who pick up our stories feel the need to slow down and relish every word.


Unknown said...

I agree with these viewpoint on slow writing.We should train ourselves to polish our work and to place the mind in a zero gravity configuration,as we delve into it.

Jessica said...

Hope, this is absolutely beautiful and so true. Your message spoke to me not only as a writer and a reader, but also as a parent. Thank you for such a thoughtful post.

Jessica McCann

Kristine said...

Would you believe I just sent in a piece about two weeks ago to Writer's Digest about slow writing? They haven't responded yet, I'll let you know if they do!

Rekaya Gibson said...

Hope, I am always complaining about how slow I write. I was beginning to think that something was wrong with me. I feel much better after reading your article.
Thank you.

p.s Can I quote you?

Hope Clark said...

Sure you can quote me.

Lynnanne said...

This reinforces taking a step back, a deep breath, and savoring life. I like it. Thanks!

~Brenda said...

Well now I don't feel so bad for being a slow reader. I've never understood what the point of devouring words like I devour chocolate cake. I should slow down on both of them.

Unknown said...

I am a slow reader and writer naturally, but I've had to speed up to keep pace with the modern world. When I started writing both fiction and nonfiction years ago I would often write 2-3 drafts in longhand and then type the final draft. Now I compose everything on the fly on the computer. We're losing the ability to appreciate writing with multiple layers to it, all because of this mania for doing things fast.

sheepdip said...

Here is "Which Shall It Be?".

I had never heard of this poem and it nearly made me cry! Thank you.

Unknown said...

Yes, WE, have the slow food movement here in North East Victoria, Australia--and it's been very well received.
I'm slow to answer this post you may have noticed (or not) and I - Vote 1 - for slow reading and writing - Bring it on ever so slowly...

Phyllis Ring said...

Great post. When I slow down for life, I experience life, and what it has to reveal, when met with attention. Writing, at its best and most fulfilling, seems to work exactly the same way, for me.
You're a gem, Hope. Thanks for all you do.
Phyllis Ring