Writing Efficiently

There is nothing efficient about writing. I know. The title of this blog is rather misleading, isn’t it? But it’s important that people accept this simple writerly truth: There is nothing efficient about writing.

Even if you do all the prep work ahead of time, the story will likely take on a life of its own soon after you begin. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is tremendous value in doing an outline, engaging in a bit of research and constructing character profiles. This groundwork can provide you with a sense of direction and it can ease the creative stifle that often occurs when we are faced with the blank page. Taking the time to become familiar with your characters, the possible direction of your story, and the perimeters that will contain your narrative (world/timeline/genre) is a great place to start, but it’s also important that you, as the creator, remain flexible.

If you create a strict character profile and then find that said character is behaving differently on paper, what are you going to do? You could attempt to stuff that character back into their profile, or you could give yourself the creative freedom to see if this new version is better than the pre-constructed one. You’ll probably find that this character is more organic, that it is easier to write from their perspective and that they feel more real.

If your character changes dramatically, then you may need to reconsider your outline. A plot is informed, at least in part, by a character’s decisions. If your character has experienced a lobotomy, then it is unlikely that your original outline will make sense given that your protagonist (or another significant character) has a new and improved personality. Like I said, writing is not efficient. If you encounter this particular problem, you can either redraft your outline or attempt to ‘pants’ the rest of the novel.

I can appreciate that redrafting an outline may seem pointless, “what if I have to change it again? That would be such a waste of time”, but it’s not a waste of time if the outline gives you enough confidence to start writing.

The outlines I do for my fiction and for this blog are very different from the final product, but that’s ok. If an unfollowed outline assists me in the writing of a book, short story or blog post, then I don’t really care if these two documents differ.

Of course, you can attempt to follow an outline, even if it no longer feels lively or authentic. You may be able to write a chapter or a blog post “efficiently,” but what is the real cost?

Potentially, a book that has failed to meet its true potential.

I realise that I make wandering off the path sound like the way to writerly enlightenment, it’s not. There is absolutely no guarantee that following your story’s lead will lead to a better story. It’s dark out there in the forest and you don’t know what traps lay underfoot or how far it is to the next cabin. With luck, you may have a lantern to help you find your way, but if your story abandons you out there in the dark, it can be a long time until first light.

The real question is, why are you so attached to the idea of being efficient? Is it because you don’t want to waste any time? Because you only have so much time to dedicate to writing and you hate the idea of wasting hours of your life on a story that may not work?

In many ways, writing is a waste of time. Let’s be real here, the world doesn’t need another masterpiece; it has plenty of masterpieces. All the stories have been told. Every. Single. One. All the forbidden romances have ended in marriage. The bad guys got locked up. The planet was saved by a group of misfits. That weedy kid no one liked won the gold medal and became a legend. It’s all been done.

Feel better?

Once you acknowledge that writing is (kind of) a waste of time, it’s so much easier to waste time writing. If you give yourself the freedom to wander off the path, to get lost in the dark until you eventually stub your toe on a forgotten lantern, then you may wind up with a good book. And if you don’t, that okay too. The world will not end, and you probably learnt something. If you cling to the idea that writing must be efficient, if you believe that success is a story produced quickly, then there’s a reasonable chance that your work will be mediocre.

I’ve written before about how the go-go mentality of today’s world fails to support creative artists and whether we consciously buy into these external pressures or not, the collective mentality to ‘get it done now’ is clearly having an effect. In the end, you decide how you create your art. You can rush through the process or you can take five years. You can write every day or binge when the mood strikes. You can self-publish or go traditional. The real question is, what happens after you type The End? Is this art something you can be proud of, or is it just another item you can strike off the to-do list?

You get to decide.

The Pros and Cons of Writing Workshops

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the value of writing clubs and writing workshops. This is mostly because I am working on an article that touches on this topic and because I recently joined the committee of my University’s writing club.

Writing clubs and workshops are a contentious topic among writers.

Stephen King hates them.
Chuck Wendig believes they can be useful.
Cheryl Strayed and Chuck Palahniuk belong to the same one.

Other authors such as Ann Patchett, Elizabeth Gilbert and Dani Shapiro value privacy during their writing process, though they do seek out the advice of other writer friends after they have completed their final draft but before they submit it to an editor. Where writers club and writers workshops focus on experimentation and feedback on works in progress, Patchett, Gilbert and Shapiro only invite other authors into their writing room once they themselves feel confident with the work.

Writers need feedback and they need community.

You don’t have to be a member of an organised club. You don’t have to attend monthly meetings. You don’t have to read stories that aren’t your jam. But these practices can add real value and understanding to your own writing process.

Most writing clubs have a pretty simple structure. Writers distribute copies of their work to club members prior to the meeting, then the writer shuts their trap as each group member delivers their in-person critique. By nit-picking other members’ work, the idea is that each writer will better identify the weakness in their own work.

Workshops and clubs also provide writers with the opportunity to experiment with different writing exercises and techniques. I used to do a lot of writing exercises, but these days hardly any. When I get time to write, I want to work on a short story, a novel or this blog. I want to sit down and produce something specific, something that can go out into the world in some form.

Writing exercises are made for scrap notebooks, so don’t go publishing that stuff online.

Writing exercises stretch your technical ability by introducing you to new literary devices and then challenging you to apply them. Writing clubs and workshops give you the time, space and permission to mess around with your writing. Rather than relying on the tricks you’ve already mastered, these exercises push you to produce prose for the sole purpose of learning. Writing clubs and workshops aren’t about perfection, they are about mess.

They are also about community. Being able to talk about your writing process, about books that you love and resources that support you is part of the package. There is value in sharing your successes with people who really get what a big achievement publication or getting shortlisted is. People who know what it is like to open a vein and to bleed onto the page. People who share your passion for words and stories, truth and beauty.

Workshops and clubs are a safe place where you can present works in progress, but they are also places of critical growth. Let’s not sugar coat this. Having someone point out the (many) typos, flaws and weaknesses in your writing can be uncomfortable, embarrassing and even maddening. Sharing your art with someone is vulnerable, even when you know it isn’t perfect; perhaps because you know it isn’t perfect. It’s hard to have fifteen people point out what isn’t working in your piece, but if you want to grow and develop as a writer then you need to know what your weak points are so that you can start to strengthening them.

Of course, writing clubs and workshops also have their dark side. If a club consists solely of beginning writers, some discernment regarding the quality each members’ feedback may be needed. Such instances can feel a little like the blind leading the blind as members are qualified more as readers than they are as writers. Perhaps you are extraordinarily luckily and you have a professional editor in your club, but chances are you don’t. When feedback slips into personal preferences or ‘this works for me and this doesn’t work for me’, then members are not critiquing submissions on their own merits nor are they acknowledging the author’s unique voice or style.

Similarly, I have also seen how club members can begin to mimic the critique styles of others. If confident members of the group favour a minimalize style and present their feedback in accordance with their personal tastes, then less confident members of the group hear these opinions and start to adopt them as their own. Such a person may even extend these opinions to their own writing as they strip all decoration from their descriptions, dialogue and prose. If you become familiar with the type of feedback style of each member, you may become overly self-conscious and begin censoring yourself in order to avoid having John point out your love of adjectives – again! Eventually, this may lead to all members sounding more or less the same.

That being said, I personally think writers club and workshops are valuable and like everything in life, you got to take the good with the bad. Writers clubs and workshops aren’t essential they are just another nifty tool you can use. If you join a club and realise it is not for you, then great! You just figured out something about your creative process. The main thing to remember with writing clubs and workshops is that members’ critiques are really just a bunch of suggestions. If someone makes a comment that doesn’t land with you, then you can exercise your authority as an author and ignore it. However, if six people say your dialogue is a bit on the nose…well… then it probably is.

Writing demands time alone – hell that’s half the appeal! – but sometimes this solitude slips into loneliness. It’s nice to talk about the struggles we are encountering with others who have encountered them. It’s nice to have someone recognise an elegant sentence that took two hours to write. It’s nice when someone picks up a subtle literary reference.

Writing clubs and workshops offer community, encouragement and support. They are a place where you can be productive and goof-off. The trick to their success lies in our ability to recognise them for the beasts that they are: a dog that can bite and befriend you.

The Balance Between Academic and Creative Writing

Apologise for not posting these past two weeks, I have been up to my eyeballs in uni deadlines and entertaining multiple groups out of town guests. The next four weeks will look much the same as I complete my Honours thesis and my final assessment items which is why this week’s blog will be a little shorter than usual!

These past two weeks have been endless paperwork as I applied for scholarships and further study (a doctorate). My editing cap has also been firmly in place with the proofreading of my thesis and final assignments while also preparing for an upcoming research presentation. As a result, most of my writing has been either academic or administrative (hello, Personal Statements!). There are many seasons in life and right now, the priority has had to be the progression and completion of the above projects, but I am so looking forward to returning to my creative work.

Recently, I read an article that focussed on the balance between academic and creative work as experienced by Australian Creative Writing lecturers. Some academics felt that their craft benefited from the interactions with students while others found that teaching and an increasing administration workload left little time or energy for their creative work. Many spoke about the pressure to publish academic articles and the fact that scholarly publications continue to be seen as more valuable than creative works. Fortunately, a few outliers stated that their creative and academic publications were equally valued.

I hope that this attitude towards creative practice and publications continues because the crafting of a compelling and thoughtful narrative requires a writer to dig deeper, to think critically, to ask hard questions, to reflect upon themselves and the world and to then respond to this internal and external stimuli.

Writing an innovation and original academic essay is not easy, but neither is creative writing.

I know which one fills me with a buzz greater than the strongest of coffees. The one that tugs my ear in the night. The one that steals away hours of time without my noticing it. The one that takes my hand and leads me to my desk each morning, and I can’t wait until I can get back into that chair.

A World Worth Writing For

Unfortunately, writers guilt is all too common. When we are working on a project, we feel guilty that we aren’t doing something more practical or useful – even if that task is nothing more than basic domestic chores. Ironically, as soon as we leave our desk to carry out said useful task, we feel guilty for abandoning our project. “I should be writing!” is the familiar, tedious mantra that plays in every writers’ mind.

Lately, though, I’ve been struck by the other type of guilt creatives suffer from. Perhaps you are familiar with it? The “Is my art doing anything?” guilt.

Part of me believes in art for art’s sake. With so much ugliness and helplessness in the world, I believe there is a place for aesthetically pleasing art. What harm can come from admiring something that is beautiful? What’s wrong with reading fun, frivolous fiction and indulging in the escapism it offers? Then there is the other part of me. The part of me that scorns this irresponsible reader. This placid person who chooses to read the latest bestseller while soaking in a tub of Epson salt as the world burns outside their window.

A vision that spurs the question: how can reading and writing contribute to solutions?

The “civilised” world has never been perfect. For better or for worse, technology’s omnipresence means we can no longer remain ignorant of our imperfection. In the face of these serious and urgent global issues, how can writers contribute to the crafting of solutions? Do their story-telling and communication skills offer anything of value?

Some argue that the publication of books reflecting current global issues is vital. Of course, these people tend to be authors. Ann Patchett (author) recently stated that she has moved away from reading classic literature in favour of contemporary texts. She believes that the accountability and challenging themes presented in recent works have once again made reading a political act.

To contradict Patchett’s point, I recently started reading Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ and I have been shocked by the timeliness of the commentary. Many of Esther existential concern remain relevant today.

“I felt now that all the uncomfortable suspicions I had about myself were coming true, and I couldn’t hide the truth much longer.” (31)

“A million years of evolution […] and what are we? Animals?” (87)

This modern classic was published in 1971. A fact that saddens me slightly, as it illustrated how little we have evolved in the last 47 years. As an aside, I bought my copy of ‘The Bell Jar’ from a second-hand bookstore. The previous owner had unlined the above passages (and others) in pencil.

I wondered why someone who loved a book enough to read it with a pencil in hand would ever part with said book. This question was immediately followed by the thought, “Maybe they died?” Given the sombre tenor of these passages/the whole book and the former reader’s obvious identification with them, I hope their ending was happier than Esther/Sylvia’s … That being said, I was constantly impressed by Plath’s ability to clearly articulate what depression felt like. I’ve never experienced depression (though the evening news does test me…) but Plath’s considered descriptions of Esther’s mental state bridged that divide. I got it.

If nothing else, this is what writers can do. They can communicate ideas. They can shape messy and complex emotions into tidy sentences. They can shatter binaries and expose hidden nuance. They can repackage complex problems into comprehensible forms. But. Is this the only irrefutable claim that writers can make? That they can present readers with information?

As the saying goes, if information was the solution, we’d all be happy millionaires with ripped abs.

You can write about the issues that trouble you, but you can’t make people read your work and you definitely can’t make them do something. While the publication of cli-fi and other challenging literary works are appearing more and more, the market isn’t exactly flooded. (No pun intended).

In a recent episode of The Garrett Podcast, Jennifer Mills, author and literary editor of Overland said that while the magazine has been successful in the publishing of marginal voices, few submissions address our present-day issues like the Anthropocene (humans impact on non-humans). Instead, most of the submissions received are concerned with relationship dynamics.

Is this because readers want escapism or because writers do?

Mills, who has published her own Anthropogenic work, Dyschronia, says that she intentionally constructed a plot that offered little in the way of solutions or action because that is what she sees in society: passivity. An observation that is no doubt reinforced by the submissions she vets.

Information is key. Without it, people may not understand the depth of a problem or how to fix it. Historically, the publication of good writing has played a vital role in the mobilizing of populations and the igniting of revolutions. Within our current culture, the problem is not a lack of information but our passivity and denial in the face of it.

Perhaps this is where our writerly self-consciousness stems from. Words are the tools wielded by skilful writers, but are we simply hiding behind our profession? Perhaps we should accept the fact that the gap between information and action is too wide? That our culture is passive. That a challenging book is likely to achieve little more than a 3.5 star rating on Good Reads. That it is time to close our laptops, start a biodynamic farm, become vegan and trade our cars for bicycles…I’m not being facetious; sincerity rests in this hyperbole.

It is true that the grandiosity of the world’s problems is overwhelming, but none of these issues occurred in isolation. We are all driving cars, drinking takeaway coffees, shutting our mouths instead of speaking up, lying to our kids about where the steak on their plate came from and buying caged eggs because they’re a dollar cheaper.

We need to do better. We need to do something.

Writers can offer solutions in their weekly columns and fiction. They can encourage readers to re-evaluate their opinions and behaviours by holding up a mirror. While a single blog post cannot change the world, our combined voices do have the power to shift culture.

Together, we can aspire to create a new culture. A culture that carries re-useable cups, that walks to works and eats ethical, sustainable food. A culture that votes. A culture that allows minorities to have space without slipping into fear that they are ‘taking over.’ A culture that questions why education hasn’t changed in 150 years. A culture that swivels its gaze away from the individual to focus on the collective. A world that is less about stuff and more about substance.

That, my friends, is a world worth writing for.

The Walking Writer

Daily walks have long been a part of my writing process, not that there’s anything special or unique about this habit. In Charlotte Wood’s collection of interviews titled, The Writers Room, Tegan Bennett Daylight says, “Scratch a writer and you’ll find a walker.” In contexts, Daylight was discussing how daily walks are a vital part of her writing process as they assist in the unlooping of her thoughts. Though she uses walking as a way to stay fit, this particular form of daily movement has had a positive impact on her writing craft, especially when she encounters creative problems, “Almost everytime I go for a walk on my own, it brings me the solution I was looking for.” In terms of problem-solving, outlining, plot development or a simple deepening of understanding regarding one’s own work, Daylight believes that these insights occur because walking allows oneself to become “distracted enough from yourself to let the creative play start to happen.” Daylight is not alone in this opinion. Anecdotal evidence from both contemporary authors and literary juggernauts has long connected the usefulness of aerobic exercise to creative writing.

If you’re wrestling with a difficult manuscript, taking a break in the form of a short walk may be more useful that you think. I’ve often solved troublesome plot holes and generated fresh approaches to structural issues while walking my local bush track. As Daylight says, “Maybe it’s because you’re distracted enough – because you need to look around when you cross the road or whatever – you’re distracted enough from yourself to let the creative play start to happen, and then your mind just goes, ‘Here’s the thing you’re looking for.’” Daylight goes on to hypothesise that these moments of insight may be brought on by an increase in endorphins. When the body relaxes, the mind is allowed to open up to “new possibilities.”

It is the potential to discover “new possibilities” that keeps writers on the track.

In his memoir/craft manifesto, On Writing, Stephen King says he experienced his first bout of writers’ block during his initial draft of The Stand. It was during an afternoon walk that a solution – that had been evading him for weeks – suddenly popped into his head and he was able to finish writing the first draft.

Beyond spontaneous insights and the space for mental clarity, walking – especially outside – can be a useful way to gather inspiration and stimuli that can fuel the creative process. Australian author Sarah Schmidt, often documents her daily walks by taking photos and posting them on her blog. The often eerie and unsettling images mirror the mood of her equally eerie and unsettling (though engrossing) debut novel, See What I Have Done. The photographs complement the mood and imagery of Sarah’s work, thus supporting her creative process, but the walk also grants her the time to contemplate her novel on a deeper level.

“I’m one of ‘those’ writers. You know the kind: fidgety, annoying, needs to walk out their thoughts, sees something along the way and thinks, ‘now that’s interesting. I wonder if…’ takes photos of it and then just stares at said photo for hours. I’m also desperately, heavily reliant on nature to help me write.”

In a study conducted by Stanford University in 2014, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz found that creative ideation increased during and shortly after walking. In a ‘meta’ moment, the idea for this experiment arose while Marily and Daniel were out on a walk. The study featured four experiments that tested participants creative divergent thinking by having them complete the Guilford’s alternate use (GAU) test. Their convergent thinking was tested using the compound remote associates (CRA) test. The study compared the effects of walking on a treadmill, sitting then walking, walking then sitting, walking outside and being pushed in a wheelchair outside. Following a walk, 81% of the 176 students had an increased improvement on their GAU score and 23% on the CRA test.

However, the study found that walking lessened students’ performance when the task required laser thinking. Oppezzo hypothesised that walking proved counterproductive in this instance due to the minds tendency to drift while walking. “If you’re looking for a single correct answer to a question, you probably don’t want all of these different ideas bubbling up.”

Fresh ideas, solutions and the ability to see “new possibilities” occur more frequently when a person is in an aerobic zone. Neuroscientists have discovered that this increase in creative thinking occurs when the mind is allowed to go into a non-thinking default state of consciousness. Many creatives tell anecdotes of how a fresh or exciting idea spontaneously popped into their mind when they were busy doing something else. As Henry Miller said, “Most writing is done away from the typewriter, away from the desk. I’d say it occurs in the quiet, silent moments, while you’re walking or shaving or playing a game or whatever.” Though some may be tempted to give all credit to the muse, the catalyst behind these spontaneous insights is physiological and psychological: there is an increased supply of oxygen to the brain and the mind is free to wonder.

Writing could be described as a conglomeration of personal experiences, observations, external stimuli consciously or subconsciously absorbed and the occasional random insight. These different sources of information settle in our brains, as Ann Patchett describes, like a “mental compost.” It’s through the act of walking that an author is able to shake free this compacted knowledge and discover something useful. This can only occur, however, if the mind is unclamped or enters a non-thinking state. A fact about heart disease read weeks ago and promptly forgotten may reappear while trekking a deserted bush track. Suddenly, the writer is able to fix that drab scene with their overweight, over-aged protagonists by transforming it into a medical drama!

Not all writers are walkers, yet many are. Though some see this casual form of exercise as nothing more than an excuse to take a break, some view it as a potentially useful practice for unlooping thoughts, for others, it is an essential tool in their craft kit. A daily walking habit will not turn an emerging writer into a best seller, but the endless author anecdotes, scientific proof and the basic physiological evidence allow for one solid conclusion: walking can help some writers some of the time, but you can’t make an ‘A-ha’ moment happen.

Writing Inspiration and Resources

This week’s blog is a collection of all the writerly podcasts, YouTube videos, blogs and movies that I have enjoyed lately. While I think it’s important to create before we consume, there comes a point where you’ve given all that you can. You can’t constantly produce if you aren’t also filling your mind with ideas, information, and insights. The conversations, advice, and ideas contained within these sources will do just that. They are the kindling you need when you’re starting to feel a little burnout and I hope you find them useful.


The Garrett

Jennifer Mills

Jennifer Mills is a writer of short stories, fiction, and poetry and she is the Literary Editor of Overland magazine. In this interview, she discusses her typical writing day, the difference approaches she uses for fiction vs non-fiction writing and the role literature has in our culture and society. In relation to her work with Overland, Mills identifies the common literary trends she sees in submissions, what good writing is and the types of stories she wished she saw more of.


Charlotte Wood

In this interview, Wood reflects on her writing process, her career as a writer and the downside of winning literary awards. Wood has a way with words, even off the page. Somehow, her description of the writing process debunks all the romantic notions we’ve come to associate with writing while simultaneously reinforcing it.


On Writing

Robert Lukins (Episode 39)

Robert Lukins’ writing career is an unusual one. He is not a freelance writer and he doesn’t have a folder filled with rejection letters. Most writers submit to competitions and magazines in order to get their work seen and to sidestep into the industry. Lukins worked odd jobs and wrote in his free time. He spent years honing his craft through writing exercises, some of which were novel length. Eventually, he decided enough was enough, it was time to write a ‘real’ novel. So he did.



Candice Fox

In this episode, Fox talks about her face-to-face interview with America’s most prolific living serial killer. It is a fascinating and totally insane story. I’ll say no more, just listen to it!

Angela Meyer

In this interview, Meyer discussing the research involved with her eagerly awaited, and incredibly complex, debut novel, ‘A Superior Spectre’.

Both interviews can be found here, simply scroll down to find these, and other, podcasts. https://soundcloud.com/booktopiapodcast


Jenna Moreci

If you are interested in self-publishing, then consider checking out Jenna Moreci’s channel. She covers a range of topics in her vlogs, including marketing advice, reviews of online services, and tips about self-publishing. Her advice and reviews are honest, transparent and very funny.

Ellen Brock

Ellen Brock is a fiction editor. Her videos concentrate on the most common craft issues she encounters while editing manuscripts. The strength of these videos is Brock’s clear articulation of what ‘bad’ writing looks like and how to fix it. She also provides plenty of great examples from successful commercial novels.

Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection, ‘Her Body and Other Parties’, is a strange and exciting hybrid. The collection would certainly be described as literary, yet it contains elements of science fiction, horror, gothic and the supernatural. One of the more bizarre stories in the collection is a summarisation of Law and Order SVU, and what every episode was “really” about.

Roz Morris

I hadn’t heard of Roz Morris before I came across this interview, but seeing that she has worked predominately as a ghostwriter and fiction editor, that’s not surprising. Let’s be honest, we’ve all heard a lot of writing advice and most of it is a regurgitation of the same stuff. However, Roz’s specific advice about how to take a two-dimension character and turn them into a living person felt like a fresh find in a sea of same-same.


Writing and the Permission to Succeed: The Intersection of Art and Shame by Elissa Altman

Altman adds depth to what may otherwise feel like a very familiar topic: writers looking for permission. Altman acknowledges our self-consciousness while weaving her own personal anecdotes and insights with beautiful quotes from well-known authors. This elegant essay is the permission slip we think we need.


Stephen King: Master of Almost All the Genres Except Literary by Douglas E. Cowan

There are a lot of great articles on the lit hub, but I am a huge Stephen King fan, so I decided to go with this one. Douglas E. Cowan traces King’s career, the fact that his prolific body of work is often dubbed as “fast fiction,” and he attempts to answer what it is about King’s style of storytelling that we connect with so strongly.


How to Network Better by Saying Less by Jane Friedman

I’ve occasionally been trapped by other writers as they harp on about their current work in progress. Don’t be that guy (and it’s always a guy…sorry). If you think you might just be that guy, please, read this article.


Seeing, doing, knowing by Jenn Webb

This one is a scholarly article published by the fantastic TEXT journal. Webb explores the idea of “who owns creativity” and what role does art for arts sake play within the academy – where research projects must be justified.



Anne with an E

So, I fully bypassed ‘Anne Of Green Gables’. I think of Anne the same way I think of ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’: these are the narratives of American childhoods. I was raised on ‘Possum Magic’ and ‘Blinky Bill’. As I grew older, my taste turned to Roald Dahl and Paul Jennings. Speaking of, whatever happened to Jennings? **Googles Paul Jeannings. Wow. Still alive?!** Anyway, I understand that ‘Anne with an E’ is an adaption and from the reviews I’ve read, it walks a darker path then the books, but I’ve enjoyed my time at Green Gables and my childhood desire for red hair has been reinvigorated.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Confession, I watched the movie and then read the book. I enjoyed both immensely and I feel that the movie did a great job of capturing the novel’s voice. However, I enjoy the subtle narrative tension established in the novel better than the slightly illogical tension established in the movie.

Well, that’s all I have for you this week! I hope you enjoy these sources as much as I have and if you have any fantastic writerly sources that you would like to share, please do so in the comments.

Until next week, happy writing.



Slow Writing

Our lives are busy and they’re just getting busier. We’re desperate for tips about time management, scheduling, prioritisation and optimisation. We want life hacks and shortcuts. Technology has eliminated some of the tedious domestic tasks that consumed our time and zapped our energy, yet we’re still complaining about being time poor and exhausted.

These days, we expect more from life and ourselves.

Ironically, we have technology to thank for this. Polished images of highly productive people followed by #hustle fill our social media feeds. The subliminal message beneath these post is that a busy person is an important person. Of course, the shrinking job market, the increased casualization of work and the depletion of entire industries isn’t helping. With Baby boomers understandably stalling their retirement plans, mid-level personnel are unable to move into management positions and low-level workers are unable to take on more responsibility (or worse, they take on mid-level workloads, but without the title or pay). That means entry-level jobs are scares and competition is fierce. If you want the job, you have to go above and beyond.

That being said, we’re all very aware that “job security” is a thing of the past. The idea of limiting oneself to a single stream of income and to one employer is borderline irresponsible. We need to have side hustles, multiple streams of income, passive income and investments. We need to take control of our financial security and our careers instead of giving that control to corporations (who have their own interests).

This has resulted in a boom in online businesses and creative entrepreneurs. With so much uncertainty in the world, we’re desperate to carve out something stable and the clock is ticking. We need to “make it” before they do; before someone steals our idea or the market become saturated. We need to go, go, go and produce, produce, produce in the hopes that we are going somewhere and that we are producing something of value.

If you’re a creative, then this approach can be rather distressing.

Time management, tight scheduling, deadlines and optimisation tactics are…problematic… because there is nothing efficient about creating art. Don’t get me wrong, I keep a weekly schedule because I want to make time for the things that are important to me, like writing, work, study, exercise and free time. I also manage my time by keeping an eye on deadlines, and I maintain particular habits that increase my productivity.

I create timetables and outlines, but I hold these maps lightly. I listen to the recommendations of other hikers, especially those who have travelled to where I want to go! I follow small urges to wander down goat tracks in the hope that it will lead to a spectacular view. Sometimes it does. Sometimes I collide with a giant boulder. Good art doesn’t have to take a long time, but it often does.

We rush to get things done and I am no exception. If there’s a way to shortcut a recipe, send one email instead of fifteen or to coordinate my errands so that I am not backtracking all over town, then I will do that.

But art is slow, or at least my art is.

Writing is an act of perseverance and constant dissatisfaction. It takes me a long time to put together a short story, novella or even an academic essay. Although I conduct research and complete outlines before I start writing, I don’t really know what I am doing or what I am thinking until I’m actively engaging with the project. People may not think that writing is a tactile act, but it is. Although I outline my stories and plan my assignments, I can’t really “see” the work during this stage. I have a sense of what it is I want to accomplish and that feeling tows me forward, guiding me towards the watery image in my mind’s eye. It is through the act of writing that this image gathers shape. It is given a body, and consequently, a will of its own.

You must hold an outline lightly because a story can have its own motivations. Some authors work tediously on an outline that they then follow to a tee, others may mentally map out their entire plot ahead of time so that their writing sessions feel more like dictation rather than creation.

Personally, I maintain a working outline, conduct research and craft character profiles and I start each session with a five-minute mini-outline where I figure out what it is I’m going to write during that session. If you were to compare this mini-outline to the final product, you may not see the connection. The story has a form and a will of its own, but it is only through the act of writing that I can feel, see and hear it. The practice of outlining may seem pointless given my tendency to follow the story’s lead, but I continue this habit because it’s a way to orientate myself and the hardest part of writing is starting.

I am a slow thinker. I need time to ponder and to tinker with the work because clean poetic prose does not come easily for me.

I work slowly.

I revise in layers where each revision has a specific purpose. In terms of creative writing, a first draft is primarily concerned with plot. What are the story beats? What is happening here, to who and why? Later revisions will focus on character, mood, theme and voice or broad concern such as structure, tension and pace.

I write first drafts fast, because I want to get the story out. I need to see the shape of it before I can start refining. During this stage, I’ll typically write 1000 words an hour. During later revisions, however, I can easily spend an hour perfecting a 100-word paragraph. A paragraph that in a later revision may be reduced to 20 words or deleted entirely. Like I said, there is nothing efficient about creating art. At this stage of the revision process, I do not measure the success of a writing session by its word count or hours spent, but by my ability to say yes to the following three questions: did I make progress today? Did the manuscript improve? Did I write something that felt real?

I am comfortable with the fact that this part of the writing process is slow because there are few areas in life where we allow ourselves to be slow. Of course, the practice of slow writing is at odds with the current work culture where we are told to squeeze the life out of every minute and to produce more content in less time. A culture where we are told it is dangerous to be slow, because we may be left behind.

Slow writing is a luxury and I am not willing to give it up.