Talking Shop: Louise DeSalvo

The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections of Time, Craft, and Creativity

A Review by George T. Parker

slow writing


Writing well is a process that can take a long time. Sometimes we can forget how long it really takes, and we get impatient with the process. We want it done it done now.

Louise DeSalvo not  only gives us permission in The Art of Slow Writing  to take our time in our writing projects, but she convincingly demonstrates that taking  a long time is normal in creating this art we call writing.

Louise previously published seventeen books including several memoirs, a study of Virginia Woolf, and the critically acclaimed Writing as a Way of Healing.

The Art of Slow Writing is divided into five parts: Getting Ready to Write; A Writer’s Apprenticeship; Challenges and Successes; Writers at Rest; and Building a Book, and Finishing a Book. Each section is filled with a sea of examples of writers and the processes they used to create their works. If nothing else from this book, I was inspired to pursue works by some of the writers detailed in this book—both writers I knew, and writers of whom I’d never heard.

But DeSalvo does give us more in her book. Much more. She says in her introduction:

“I write about that major challenge affecting all writers: our need to slow down to understand the writing process so we can do our best work. I’m inviting you on a journey to think about how to work at writing day by day…It’s about how to think about working at writing and slowing down our process so we can become self-reflective writers so we can find our own way.”

One of the things that Slow Writing does is help us to see that early drafts are not the final version of any of our works. Louise tells us about a writer she regularly invites to speak to her memoir writing class.

“Harrison arrived in class with a stack of manuscripts—ten drafts of The Mother Knot that she composed from autumn 2002 through summer 2003. She began the work as a long essay; she realized she was writing a book in the seventh draft. Seeing that pile of drafts was an important learning experience for my students. As one said, “I realized that if it took Harrison that many drafts, it’d take me that long, too.’ “

A critical point on the subject of early drafts: “Because Harrison knows she’ll work through many drafts, she gives herself permission to write badly at first.” (Emphasis added.)

Everybody writes badly at first. It’s through revision and editing that any of us get better. This can be a hard concept to accept when you want to go from a blank page to a published book in a year. Slow writing. Small steps.

A sampling of the fifty-five of Louise’s chapter headings describe the Slow Writing process: Finding Our Own Rhythm; A Writer’s Mise en Place; Walking and Inspiration; Apprenticeship; Process Journal; Patience, Humility, and Respect; Learning How to Learn; Labor and Management; Game Plan; No Excuses; A Writer’s Notebook; Radical Work Takes Time; Failure in the Middle; Creative Problem Solving; Rejection Letters; Hailstorms; Practice Deciding; What Worked and Why; Dreaming and Daydreaming; Why I’m a Writer Who Cooks; Slow Reading; What’s in Your Drawer?; How Long Does it Take; Turning Pages into Books; Writing Partners; The Toughest Choice; The Finish Line.

(For the curious, mise en place is a cooking term for ingredients that are prepared ahead of the actual dish preparation. When you have all of your ingredients diced, measured, and organized into little dishes ready to toss into the pan when you start to cook, you have mise en place. Writers can do the same sort of preparation before they even sit down to write. It helps!)

Louise writes in short but packed chapters. Even years after reading this book, I find myself picking it up frequently as a refresher and encouragement to my own writing. I hope it can be the same inspiration to you. This is the type of book that will make you  want to mark up and write notes in the margins.

slow writing clip


Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity can be found at our local Barnes & Noble. Kindle and Nook copies are also available.

What books on writing have helped you learn your craft? We would love to hear from you. You could share some short answers on our Facebook page, or you could write a review of your favorite writing books to share on the blog. Send your reviews to .

I look forward to hearing from you all!

George is a fish farmer by day, and a word wrangler by night (and weekends). He has been working on a memoir of his life in the California Conservation Corps and Backcountry trail crews since…well…for a long time. After last NaNoWriMo, it is 50,000 words closer to completion and the end is in sight. You can see some of this project at .  He is crazy enough to try and simultaneously write a blog on the CCC at . George has been the Writers Forum newsletter editor since 2015.

Is Your Story Short???

Rcvd this as email this morn…


Fellow writers,

One of the best ways to gain credibility as a writer and build your writing resume (especially if your publishing credentials are currently thin) is to win a credible writing competition. And right now, through Writer’s Digest you can do that with just 1,500 words of fiction.

That’s right—Just 1,500 words! Here’s how:

It’s time to enter our 16th Annual Short Short Writing Competition. Whether it’s a story you’ve been working on for years or one you write tonight, all you need is a short work of fiction that is 1,500 words or fewer to submit it right away. It’s that easy. Prizes for the winner of this competition include:

  • $3,000 in cash
  • Your short story title published in Writer’s Digest magazine’s July/August 2016 issue
  • A paid trip to the ever-popular Writer’s Digest Conference (where I’d love to meet you)!
  • A copy of the 16th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition Collection
  • A copy of the 2016 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market
  • And more!

Plus, all entrants will receive access to our February 23, 2016, webinar “Short Story to Story Collection: How to Craft a Collection of Short Fiction That Gets Published and Sells,” a $49 value at no extra cost.

I’ve helped judge this competition for years and, I admit, it’s one of my favorites to read through. Being able to write a good short (short) story can be a challenge, but if you have a fun idea and run with it, who knows what can happen. But you can’t win unless you enter. The deadline for this competition is January 15, 2016, so enter now before it’s too late!

Take care of yourself and your writing,
Brian A. Klems
Senior Online Editor, Writer’s Digest

To enter visit:


Note: There is a $25 entry fee.

Writers Forum’s Summer Time…

The Writers Forum summer is spent many ways.

Those members who are teachers don’t teach like they had; as teachers, they are always teaching, but not in a stuffy structured environment.

Some members big $$$ is in the non-winter months; summer is for working long hours.

Some members hardly notice the change, as they are writing, writing, writing; editing, editing, editing; revising, revising, revising.

Some travel, some stay at home; some venture out, some hibernate.

Regardless, they all remain members of the greatest not-for-profit known to mankind. Well, slight exaggeration, but you realize where this is heading: SOME THINGS SLIP THROUGH THE GEARS OF A WELL OILED MACHINE.

Didn’t see that coming, didja? It is true. The Website has been remiss in posting. Some say responsibility lies with the President who said at a Board Meeting, “No Problem! I will run a “Best of Member Monday” series. But procrastination won out.

So this is solemnly pledged; “There will be postings; maybe a “Best of Anything that strikes Someone’s Fancy” series.

Stay cool while that someone figures out why Word Press has shifted to a “Replace” mode rather than the usual “Insert” mode; don’t believe it is a keyboard issue.

PS. This could be in lieu of the monthly Message from the President.

Member Monday: Finding Denis, Part 1 by Alicia McCauley

Alicia & some of her Ugandan kidsWelcome back to Member Monday.  Today we feature a piece by Alicia McCauley.  Alicia spends her summers teaching writing and committing acts of Vigilante Kindness in and around Gulu, Uganda.  She will be sharing about her last trip and her upcoming trip at our May meeting.  Welcome, Alicia.

Finding Denis, Part 1

by Alicia McCauley

The boda driver killings in Gulu, Uganda began on May 28th and on May 29th I received a frantic message from my boda driver, Denis, that a rebel group had entered Gulu and was killing boda drivers in the cloak of night.

Denis’ message to me was quick and to the point.  “A group of people are killing boda boda riders in large.  And they are using guns.”

Messages from my other loved ones in Uganda came in frantic bursts.  The number of drivers killed was nearing twenty.  A mandatory curfew was put in place over the town.  The police were vigilant in their pursuit of the rebel group, but drivers continued to be shot and killed.

I called Denis.

And messaged him.

And sent my son, William, out to Denis’ village, Bungatira, to find him.

His phone was disconnected.  He didn’t reply to messages and worst of all, he was nowhere to be found in his village.

For weeks I tried to find him.

Then weeks turned into a month.

Time kept on growing and still no word.

The pit of my stomach felt like it was full of rocks. I thought of the voice in my ear telling me to let go.

No, I would not let go of this.  I would not let go of my friend.

I spewed angry prayers from between clenched teeth.  I am not letting go of my friend, God.  NOT LETTING GO.  So You and your voice are going to have to help me find Denis.

I wondered if Denis was alive.  And if he was alive, why wasn’t he home?  Why was his phone, his life line, not working?

Something was terribly wrong.

Since the summer of 2013 I’d heard from Denis at least every other week.  He regularly filled me in with reports on his pigs and reports about the village treasury.

And now nothing.

I arrived in Gulu and tried calling Denis countless times to no avail.  I planned to go to Denis’ village the following day to figure out for myself where my friend was and whether he was alive or not.

I can’t tell you how happy I was later that day when I picked up my phone and it showed a missed call from Denis’ number.  I kicked myself for having it on silent.

Again I called and didn’t get through.  Later William called and talked to Denis.  Denis was in Te Okot, the land of his clan.  William reported that Denis was walking to Gulu to come and see me.

Again alarm bells sounded in my mind.

Te Okot is 2-3 hours from Gulu and that’s if you go by motorcycle.  Why was Denis walking?  Why was he so far from home?

I called Denis and nearly cried when I heard his voice.  I fired questions at him.

“Where have you been?  You scared me to death.  I thought you were dead.  Why isn’t your phone working?  What are you doing so far from home?  Aren’t you in school?  Where’s your boda?  Why are you walking from so far?”

“I’ll explain it all when I reach you.  I’ll be there around midnight,” Denis replied.

“Why don’t you take a boda?  It will be much faster.”

“It’s expensive.  I can’t pay for it.  My pigs were poisoned and died.  My future has died.”

“What???  Who killed your pigs?  And how much is the boda ride?”

“40,000 shillings.  I’ll explain everything when I get there.”

40,000 shillings is roughly $15.

I told Denis I’d pay the boda driver, that he should just come and come quickly.

Then I waited one of the longest hours of my life.

Come to the May Writers Forum meeting to find out how the story ends.  Can’t wait that long?  Click here to read more.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Past President Peter Wright

peterPast Writers Forum President Peter Wright died peacefully in his sleep on March 25, 2015. Born in Wallasey, England, Peter grew up primarily in Bristol during WWII, eventually moving to the U.S.

After spending his formative years at Blackfriers Dominican School for Boys, where his mother had sent him in hopes he would become a priest, Peter enrolled in the Outward Bound Sea School for training to become an apprentice midshipman and joined the Merchant Navy.

In 1944 he joined the Elder Dempster Lines of Liverpool as an indentured apprentice aboard the Merchant Ship “Calumet” bound for the North Atlantic and the west coast of Africa, where his ship dodged Nazi U-Boats for the rest of World War II. After the war, he spent the next three years on different ships with Elder Dempster calling on the many ports of West Africa.

In 1947 Peter passed the Second Mates examination and rejoined Elder Dempster lines as an officer sailing to Africa and other parts of the world. He ultimately gained his Master Mariners license in 1958 and was employed by the Bristol City Lines between England and North America.

Immigrating to the United States, he first worked for a stevedoring company in Cleveland, Ohio until he discovered there was no employment during the winter months. Moving to the West Coast, he joined the Kerr Steamship Company in San Francisco as Port Captain responsible for handling freighters in Bay Area ports. In 1976 his qualifications as a Captain and his waterfront experience of ships and cargoes carried enabled him to work for a Marine Surveying company which took him to jobs throughout the West Coast and the world working for cargo owners, insurance companies and ship owners.

In 1991 he and his wife, Gloria, moved to Redding, CA where he spent his retirement writing books, gardening and making model ships. His model of the “USS Constitution” PetersModelis on display at the Redding Library.

Peter was a member of the Library Board and the Redding Writers Forum. He was a gentle, thoughtful soul, and he lived a rich, adventurous life that he generously shared in his captivating memoirs. He wrote four books describing his early life and adventures at sea.
A celebration of life will be held at 2:00 pm on Saturday, May 16, 2015 at the Center for Spiritual Living, 1905 Hartnell Avenue, Redding, CA.

Member Monday: Becoming A “Real” Boy by Terry O’ Connell

Welcome back to Member Monday.  Today we conclude our theme “A Lesson Learned” with a compelling piece from Writers Forum member and first time contributor, Terry O’Connell.  Welcome, Terry!

Becoming A “Real” Boy

by Terry O’ Connell

I grew up an only child, raised mostly by a single, working mom. I was a quiet, gentle boy who preferred to read and stay home rather than go out and play with other kids on the streets and in the playgrounds. I didn’t like sports, wasn’t very coordinated, and I’d much rather avoid a flying ball than try to catch one. I have horrible memories of musical chairs – the pushing, the aggression, chairs toppling, people falling down. I would usually just remain standing and be eliminated. I was not a “typical” boy, and I fell far short of the playground standards of my working-class neighborhood.

In my fourth grade year, there was a big contest at my school – with prizes! I don’t remember the details, but somehow I managed to win first place. As the grand winner, I could choose one of two prizes. One was a bright red Radio Flyer wagon, and the other was a well-made Raggedy Andy rag doll. The wagon was the clear choice, and I started to imagine having it at home to play with and haul my toys around. Then I looked at the doll and thought to myself, “Everyone wants the wagon. Nobody is going to choose the doll.” And I started to picture the doll being ignored and left behind, and something in me shifted.

When the time came for me to make my selection, I chose the doll.

For the rest of the day, the kids chided me mercilessly. They called me names. They made up little rhymes about me and my doll. Boys and girls, friends and strangers, it made no difference. I had crossed a line and they weren’t going to let it go.

Finally, school let out and I was able to go home and get away from the taunting and disapproval. On the walk home, I kept replaying the day’s events over and over again, trying to bring the whole thing into focus and make sense of how I felt and what had happened.

A block before I reached home, I threw the doll away.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!


Member Monday: Revenge Cup by Dale Angel

Welcome back to Member Monday.  We continue our September theme ” A Lesson Learned” with a piece by member Dale Angel.

Revenge Cup

by Dale Angel

On a cold rainy morning in the city there opened a new fast food place with the smell of coffee permeating the frosty air. It invited you inside with clean tiled walls and shiny new windows. It looked like a good place to work, if I could get a job there.

Applications were across town. The long bus ride was uncomfortable because of the overwhelming smell of diesel, I was glad to get off and walk the next few blocks locating the address. It was up a flight of outside stairs that needed repair. Opening the door, at the end of the room was a large man behind a large desk that almost touched wall to wall.

Our conversation was brief he informed me they didn’t hire old people. Their labor would be only young high school kids, I was all of forty but could pass for thirty-nine some days…at early evening.

It left me wounded, too emotional to ride back and let anyone see me crying. I walked miles in the rain with my hot tears mingling with cold rain.

I got a job cleaning an apartment overlooking the river. It was completely walled in glass with a large glass table, large glass lamps, large glass covered pictures, a glass coffee table, glass fronted furniture, huge mirrors, and a glass coffee pot.

The lady of the house always left as soon as I arrived explaining she was out to her afternoon delight. She shared with me she was a former prostitute, her husband was a Fireplace tools manufacturer.

One day as she pulled on her coat, that looked just like Pat Nixon’s before they were asked to leave the Whitehouse, she again explained she was out to for her Afternoon Delight. I had in my mind a mocha souffle or pineapple sunday. I asked what “Afternoon Delight” was. She looked over her mod glasses, her white manufactured hair framing her face, and explained it was her lover.

She made it to the elevator when the earthquake hit. I looked out the windows and saw the river hit the glass windows. Shards of glass whirled at me and I floated on the table as the lamps and glass cupboards shattered and the glass chandelier swung. It sounded like a bomb went off. I was wet. I thought it was blood. It was my thumb frozen on the glass cleaner container spraying and as the building rolled and whirled my legs became weak but my mind returned, I realized I didn’t get hazardous pay.

I revisited that fast food place, they gave out coffee cups with their logo on it drumming up business the promise was…. always a cup of free coffee if you use their advertising cup.

Thirty and more years have passed, but I don’t keep account of injuries or hold grudges.

Recently, out of spite, I pulled mine out of the cupboard and asked for my free coffee. One local establishment refused, the one across town honors me with fresh coffee with real cream served by a gracious manager. It’s my revenge cup although small in comparison to the large man and large desk the cup is now bigger than the both of us.

There’s something comforting in revenge.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!