I'm a turtle.
This is how I often describe myself as a writer. It's not really a choice. It's simply how I do what I do. For better or for worse, I'm slow. Every writer operates differently, and for too many years I felt like I was doing it "wrong" because my glacial process didn't match that of my peers.
But there is great value in slowness. Every sentence has its life. Every paragraph has its evolution, its own unique pulse and rhythm and personality. There's even a sculptural quality to language, to the way the words look on the page (paraphrasing Don DeLillo here). And it takes time to discover all this. Each word you write should have, after all the effort invested, the feel of inevitability about it. That's my goal at least.
Many writers, especially the younger ones, seem to be in a hurry. I was—and am—no exception. I want it to be done. I want to experience that afterglow of having written, as opposed to the slog (sometimes, sometimes not) of actually writing. I want to see polished pages accumulate and hopefully shape into something that I can share with the world. And plus, I'm getting close to fifty. (I'm a forty-eight-year-old "debut" author.) My writerly clock is ticking. Increasingly, I'm haunted by the sense that there will only be so many books, so many stories. But I want them all to seem inevitable.
Recently I came across this head-nodding quote from Jane Smiley:
"Be the tortoise, not the hare. You learn a lot by taking your time, paying attention to what is going on around you, and keeping at it. Every draft is first and foremost an exploration before it is a work of art."
I'm reminded, too, of that famous Hemingway quote from a Paris Review interview. When he said he'd rewritten the ending to A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times, he was asked, "Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?" His response: "Getting the words right."
Yes. Getting the words right. Slowly. It's as simple and complicated as that.