Sarah's comment just now - which, as she wrote, must have fallen into the ether originally - prompted me to write here today, a rapid update. 

I want to get into Slow Writing. Is that a thing? I see Louise DeSalvo wrote a book on it. DeSalvo wrote one of my favorite writing books: Writing as a Way of Healing. That book, along with work by James W. Pennebaker, formed the springboard for a "Writing for Health" workshop my father and I gave together many years ago.

I keep thinking about Slow Writing, because most of my writing these days is frantic. It's that writing without breathing type. The scrawled, choppy, crossed out sentences in a journal that is wet from being thrown into the swimsuit bag and chewed on by the cat and full of directions, shopping lists, nervously jotted down To Do lists. Lists from several months ago with items that have big exclamation points next to them, underlined twice, items that still aren't done.

This morning, working on an assignment due in three hours, I caught the ridiculous franticness of how I was writing. I stopped myself. I tried to slow down. But when my kids are home, as they are now, expecting a fun summer day, as they are now, and there's a change of plans and I suddenly have something due, I can't help but write in this way. Any minute, there's an interruption. I had three straight minutes to myself writing sprawled out on the bed and the cat chose that time to lie down on the papers and tackle my pen. 

But facing obstacle after obstacle--(not crazy dramatic ones like Olympic athletes, but tiny, quotidian ones like kid interruptions, overdue bills, frisky cats, nosy neighbors)--that is like the main running theme of the book-Writer's Boot Camp--that I'm trying to get off to the printer. A book (a book inside a kit, really) that will be out in stores this fall. The whole point is basically how to slog through. Which we all know is the point. But because I've been slogging through writing for most of my adult life and because I've patched together something of a writing life kind of, and because I've read hundreds of books on writing advice, I do feel I have a little bit of an idea about what kinds of things help with continuing the slog. Yet, like the shrink who desperately needs therapy or nutritionist who gulps down giant Slurpees for breakfast, here I am tripped up by the most obvious and predictable obstacles.

I came to the blog, for a quick post, because it often centers me. If forces me to ask--where am I today? It makes me think about the reunion I just came from, and how that connects to the ones I wrote about in 2010, 2012, and 2014. I am thinking about how the fierce Jacobson sisters who raised their kids together in Brooklyn would be maybe disappointed to think about how scattered those cousins are now. Disappointed to know that those cousins, who grew up like siblings, whose relationships are foundational to their entire life view, didn't prioritize the next generation really getting to know each other. So while we've grown up seeing them at Bat Mitzvahs and weddings and funerals, we didn't really have the relationship playing together our parents somehow imagined we did. How only my sister--who wasn't raised there--holds down the fort in Brooklyn now. Like Amie in her recent post on The Shape of Me,  these are things I am thinking about, questions I'm raising, not ones I am answering.

A blog should have more of a daily rhythm. That cadence inheres to the form. Letting long stretches go between posts is disruptive to the flow of it. 

Sometimes I find it hard to think about writing here because I am too much in the middle of things. But in the middle of things is exactly the place from where we have to write. Yes distance, escape, a tiny cabin by the sea, a quiet room in a lake house, a deck overlooking the vast Pacific ocean, a Journal of a Solitude gives us much-needed perspective, gives us time and space for reflection. For Slow Writing. For meaningful interpretation. But that isn't the reality of most of our days. Most days, we have to write right smack dab in the middle of things. I will try to stay closer to that reality. To keep writing in media res.

(If you can, listen to "May It Be" by Enya today.)


  1. I remember seeing Anne Lamott speak at the Borders in the Time Warner Center many moons ago (before it was an H&M) and she said she always carries around a little pad of paper and pen because inspiration strikes all the time, everywhere... I've heard a ton of writers say this, but she actually stopped her talk about four or five times and got her paper and pen out of the back pocket of her jeans to scribble things down. It was so fascinating to watch. She was speaking, then would have a thought, slow down what she was saying for a minute, jot something down, and pick right back up. This could be the start of a post about the "7 habits of highly successful writers." Hope you've had a fantastic summer.

  2. That's amazing that she did that! (Stopped right in the middle of her talk.)

    I love those "7 habits of highly successful writers" type posts. Getting up super early is almost always one of them and because Petra is actually one of those kids who doesn't naturally wake up super early, I've gotten totally lazy lately without Wally's school schedule to harness us in.

    How I miss Borders...

    Thanks for your comment here Holly...amazed you are finding the time to write yourself...

  3. First of all, thank you for writing this today, for squeezing it in amidst assignments, work, and life's daily obstacles, for writing in media res. You touch on so many things that I've been turning over and over like stones. The links to DeSalvo's work resonated with me so deeply, and I'm fascinated by the workshop you and your father created, "Writing for Health." I've been thinking a lot about how my daily writing project has been incredibly healing, though I haven't written much into those thoughts yet--and perhaps I should. DeSalvo mentions withholding judgement from the writing, something that constantly (and especially lately) trips me up. That last paragraph regarding her work, about writing healing not only the writer but the reader and the culture, creating those larger ripples in society... and the final sentence, "The writing itself and making it public becomes a political act." YES. This has been my experience with the project and with publishing my first few essays. Even these quiet declarations feel like political acts.

    As for slow writing, it seems to be my natural state--it all takes me so much time. In a culture that values speed and production, I'm frequently left second-guessing whether I'm on the right path with my tortoise pace. I do find it heartening to know it can take other writers a long time too.

    I'm in perpetual awe of the many things you juggle simultaneously. I'm over here with two balls in the air and one on the floor. But truly, thank you for taking the time to write this today. It's given me so much to think about and left me feeling inspired. This work is so important.

  4. Sarah, first of all, thank *you* for writing your response, squeezing it in amidst all you have to do. The Writing for Health workshop was so long ago and I don't know why it's taken me all this time to return to that beginning and try to follow it out. I'd love to hear your thoughts about how the daily writing project has been healing. Yes -- I so love that thought about how writing ripples outward into the culture and can be a "political act." I'm so interested by the various ways writing can be political and with wondering if writing that is personal, inward focused, and not necessarily a testimony or witnessing can also be socially-justice oriented. One of my current thoughts (turning over like stones) is about how slowing down and observing and making connections (what we hope to do on our blogs) really can be so healing by bringing us back to our center and therefore letting us genuinely reconnect to others and to our responsibility to others.

    I am so impressed that slow writing is your natural state. That sounds very healthy to me.

    I think you juggle just as much, if not more.

    Petra tugging me away. But really, truly, thank you.

  5. Yesyesyesyes. Writing in the middle of things- this is such a perfect description of this highwire act- I am lately (or always? Haven't I always been this frazzled?) feeling like I'm going to topple over at any minute. Your post here reminds me that a. I'm not alone, 2. the importance of questioning, 3. that blogging should be a place to (re)center. I want to be a Slow Writer. And I cannot wait for Writer's Bootcamp to be out!!!! Yippee!!!! (p.s. Thank you for the shout out! You always manage to boost me up, even from far away, at the moment I'm thinking about ditching the blog thing. Thank you.)

  6. I'm so happy about that Amie. Reading your posts is so often what inspires me to write one. I'm daily thinking about ditching my blog, too.


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