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 writersforumeditor@gmail.com .

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 http://grinningdwarf.com/ .  He is crazy enough to try and simultaneously write a blog on the CCC at https://ccchardcorps.wordpress.com/ . George has been the Writers Forum newsletter editor since 2015.

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Talking Shop: Stephen King

 Book Review: On Writing

By George T. Parker

 

I had a problem a few years ago.

I came home from town with a book on writing. Another book on writing.

Patsy said, “Do you think it would help if you spent more time writing instead of reading about writing all the time?”

She had a point.

I cut down on the amount of writing book purchases I made and sat down to write. It helped. I’ve been writing a lot more ever since.

However, there is substantial value in reading books about writing. Writing is a craft in which natural talent can only take most of us so far. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, said:

“…while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

We read books on writing to improve our craft. We look for good advice from more experienced people with the goal of improving our own writing. I believe that I can write better now because of many things I learned from those writing books through the years.

I would like to pass on to you some of the best writing books that I discovered along my writing life. Some books are far better than others as far as passing on the craft. Maybe I can point somebody in a good direction to make the most of their limited reading time and book budget.

And with that, I would like to start off with the book I’ve already quoted, Stephen King’s On Writing.

On Writing

On Writing is a fascinating book because even though it is filled with nuts and bolts information on writing, it is also probably the closest thing we will ever have to a memoir by Stephen King. King opens On Writing by complimenting Mary Karr’s fantastic memory of her childhood in Liar’s Club, and then contrasts her detailed memories with his much more vague and spotty recollections. The first section of the book then becomes King’s short 90-page memoir of his early years, through the writing of Misery. Along the way, King shares what influenced him to write and about his early writing days. We learn about his grade-school days ‘underground’ self-published newsletter, complete with mimeographing process and marketing to his friends. We see his high school and college days. We see King in his first teaching job, writing Carrie crammed into the ‘laundry closet’ with a typewriter balanced carefully on his knees because that’s the only space he had available to write. We get to see a master learning the rudimentary tools of his trade.

Then King moves on to the second section of the book, The Toolbox. King builds the metaphor on his grandpa’s carpenter toolbox. Grandpa’s toolbox was not a Craftsman of-the-shelf model. Grandpa built it himself. Grandpa had a tool for every job. Every tool had its unique place in the toolbox. Grandpa’s toolbox was also heavy. A person could build muscle just by carrying it. King suggests “that to write to the best of your abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build enough muscle to carry it with you. Then instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work.”

King says that his grandpa’s toolbox “had three levels,” but he thinks “yours should have at least four.” He says that “common tools go on top,” such as vocabulary and grammar. Under the top layer, go “elements of style,” and we learn the value King sees in Strunk and White’s marvelous little book. King goes on to outline what he thinks a writer should have in each layer of your toolbox.

The last part of the book is a lengthy postscript. King had started the rough draft of On Writing when he was hit by a van while he was walking down a country road one day. The postscript talks about the accident and the aftermath, and about how picking the pen up for On Writing again helped his recovery.

On Writing is a valuable writing book by one of our time’s premier authors. Whether you like his books or not, King has millions of published words to his credit, which gives him a unique perspective on what makes writing and story work. This one is definitely worth a look.


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 writersforumeditor@gmail.com .

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. It is now 50,000 words closer to completion and the end is in sight. You can see some of this project at http://grinningdwarf.com/ .  He is crazy enough to try and simultaneously write a blog on the CCC at https://ccchardcorps.wordpress.com/ . George has been the Writers Forum newsletter editor since 2015.

 

Like a Good Story?

Today we have some book reviews by Writers Forum member Steve Westall.

steve-westell-ovalI thought it would be fun to pass along a sentence or two recap of books I’ve read over the last few weeks.  Maybe another member might do the same for next month’s newsletter.

We all use different approaches in selecting reads.  Personally I enjoy just about everything…A good story is a good story, ya know. I read the book reviews in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal religiously every week, occasionally watch “The Book” on CSPAN, listen to “Nancy’s Bookshelf” on NSPR, and of course my reader friends always have recommendations.  I take my picks to Amazon for pricing…never buy a hardcover unless it’s on sale at Costco.  Amazon Prime Membership (free shipping) is a great deal if you buy any quantity of books.  I don’t buy anything without price checking Amazon first….So here we go…

  1. Cutting For Stone: Abraham Verghese. Story of love, betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles and orphaned twin brothers whose fates are intertwined.  Set in post war Ethiopia. A book I never would have selected off the shelf. Extremely well crafted.  5 Stars
  2. The Nest: Cynthia Sweeny. Tension in a dysfunctional New York family that had made a pact to split a wealthy sibling’s fortune to repay a loan that he had taken from the family trust (Nest).  Good story but I thought amateurishly written.  Shows how an author that has close friends in the publishing business  (Harper Collins) and the WSJ Books Section… gets a book published that might have been difficult otherwise.   3 Stars
  3. The House of The Spirits: Isabel Allende.  Triumphs and tragedies in three generations of a political Latin American family.  Story of love and revolution.  Excellent primer on developing characters for novice writers. I felt the skillful construction of the story was better than the actual story.  4 Stars
  4. The Zebra Striped Hearse; The Chill; The Far Side of the Dollar. Ross Macdonald. Three Mystery novels from a series of detective stories around central character Lew Archer written in the 1950’s.  I’m not a detective story fan but these are so well written you can’t stop reading.  5 Stars
  5. Killing The Rising Sun: Bill O’Reilly – Martin Dugard.  I really like Dugard’s  easy read writing style. All the “Killing” books have been extremely well researched. For history impaired people they are a great catch up on eighth grade history.  Martin does all the work and Bill adds the hype.  Hard not to sell a million copies when your title is before the public every night seven days a week.   3 Stars
  6. Breaking Through Power: Ralph Nader. No Ralph is not dead.  This short book just came out the middle of September.  A very well documented analysis of what the politicians refer to as the “top 1%”.  It’s alarming to see the power that a mere 500 U.S. families have over all of us.  I’m not a fan of political books but this one’s more of a layman CPA’s view of what happens in a society controlled by money and wealth (Plutocracy).  Great outline of how Democracy works…good read for every concerned American.  5 Stars

Steve Westall

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