The Idea Behind Slow Writing

The idea behind Slow Writing


Kenneth Burchfiel

The wonderful thing about our modern would is that it has produced countless things that require absolutely no thought at all. Microwaves, television, the presidential elections—all one has to do is push a button, sit back and watch the chicken, channels or candidates go by.

Needless to say, we have become accustomed to the idea that no pursuit—be it a steak dinner or a short story—need take longer than a minute or two. If one can catch up on the news in ten minutes, why should a sonnet take any longer? Thus, as life’s pace increases, we tend to compose stories faster and faster. It’s simply a reaction to the times.

In Europe, there has sprung up what is called a “Slow Food” movement, the idea being to spend more time enjoying a meal and less time stuffing it between the tonsils. Such an idea would be jarring to many of my fellow Americans, no doubt; our country tends to make eating an “in-between” pursuit, if we give our plates undivided attention at all. International views aside, the idea has won enough followers to change the state of dining in Europe.

The thought occurred to me that I’m in great need of such a movement, if not in a gastronomic sense. I’m on the New York subway as I write this, hastily moving the pen across the paper as the train hurtles towards 2nd street. I have little time to think about my choices as I go; there are only a few more stops left on the route. Admittedly, I often treat the written word like the microwave industry treats a chunk of breaded fish: spend as little time preparing the thing as possible. If they’re slowing down the eating process in Europe, I may as well slow my pen down back here.

Enter the Slow Writing Movement. Like the European version, it’s built off a simple premise: do not write so fast that your words fail to soak into the paper, so fast that sentences skip off the page without leaving an impression. I might wish to conquer the 8 ½ by 11 kingdom with phalanxes of frantic text, but winning control of the reader’s mind is a game of quality. (Forgive my hypocrisy, if you would: I’m now writing this on an uptown-bound train at 2 in the morning, hoping to reach the end of the draft before 116th street arrives.)

Writing is not, and never will be the mental equivalent of a microwave dinner or a cable program. It is pesky enough to demand the attention of the composer, not to mention their time. “Slow Writing” as a term is simply the reaction to that perpetual truth. If one gives the idea in their head the same attention as a plate of filet mignon, they might just find a real satisfaction in those words on the page.

There’s another dimension to the slow writing movement that transcends, well, the slowness. Writing, to make a shoddy attempt at one of those percentage sayings, is eighty percent experiencing and twenty percent typing. If all one does is hammer out copy, they’ll soon find their wonds turning dry for want of original substance. That eighty percent includes experiences garnered through fiction and nonfiction reading; the twenty percent, likewise, encompasses both writing and editing.

“Slow Writing” shouldn’t be seen as a radical movement, but as a return to the days when it was perfectly fine to spend an entire day on a single paragraph. If I can approach the keyboard like a European diner might a three-course dinner, the writing process may take on a more enjoyable and fulfilling dimension.


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One response to “The Idea Behind Slow Writing

  1. Sarina Bhandari

    HI ZOO.