Like Slow Food, Slow Writing Deepens the Flavor of your Words
Like so many of us, I used to feel busy all the time. Married with two young children, I lived an interrupt-driven life and rarely escaped into thick books.
Instead, I skimmed. I read the newspaper headlines and flipped through magazines. I scanned the subject lines in my email to determine which ones to actually read. On Facebook, I skipped the long and complicated posts and favor the short bits about my friends’ lives: their plans for dinner, their children’s antics, the thoughts that occupy their minds…the kinds of passing conversations we might have if we lived next door to one another and actually went outside and talked for a few moments.
My constantly-moving lifestyle lent itself to reading a few short paragraphs or writing a sentence or two on Facebook, text or email.
Then I was diagnosed with cancer, and I stopped in my tracks.
Suddenly my life revolved around doctors’ visits and decisions, feeling crazy and interrupt-driven in a whole new way.
I was in new territory, off-center and scared. Desperate for connection, I sent an email message to a few friends, sharing my news and my fears. I knew they would want to know, and I wanted them to know, what this was like, both logistically and emotionally.
I also knew how busy everyone was, and I didn’t want to waste their time.
So – I wrote the first email. I kept it brief and to the point, and I tried to be optimistic. I needed surgery, but doctors were hopeful that it was contained. I promised to write back with an update.
Then events transpired: The cancer spread further than we thought. I wrote again, describing the follow-up treatment prescribed, and wrote again as I went through the treatments. I didn’t want to waste their time or come across as alarmist or overly needy. But I needed my friends to be there, and I didn’t want to scare them off.
So, before I hit send, I re-read each email message. I tried to take the perspective of my friends who might be reading this. How did it sound? Was it easy to read? Easy to skim? Does it flow? Is it confusing? Did I ramble? How can I tighten it up? Does it communicate the points I really want to convey?
Sometimes, it took more than a day to write then revise an email. I began to notice that the final version of each message illuminated truths about myself and my situation that were not clear in the first draft. This slower writing process allowed elements to come forth that could not be revealed in a quick Facebook post or even a conversation.
For example, when I needed to decide where to get chemotherapy, I described for my friends each location and its pros and cons. Thought I felt stuck for an answer, I could then see, in my writing, my feelings about each hospital. The decision was clear, fully exposed itself through the process of writing.
The slower writing process itself was valuable to me, but a surprising bonus: My friends seemed to stay tuned to my updates. I worried about sounding panicky and about talking so much about myself.
I starting letting them know what medical event was coming up next and when it was. If they didn’t hear from me afterwards in a timely manner, they checked in to make sure I was all right.
At first, I tried to be factual in my writing and keep my feelings optimistic and relatively hidden, but then I noticed that they would seep through the words anyway. I became more open and sharing in my writing. I allowed myself to be more vulnerable through my words.
Through my writing, coincidences and moments of grace revealed themselves. For example, at one point, these lyrics from Frosty the Snowman were stuck in my head:
Each time the lyrics ran through my mind, I focused on “…before I melt away,” sometimes to the point of tears. But when I sat to write about it, my written words unfolded to focus on “We’ll have some fun now…” which then lifted my spirits and changed my perspective.
Though the cancer treatments made my outside life much more logistically complicated, my longer writing process helped my inside life become calmer and slower-paced. The longer written pieces and the slower process helped me to communicate better with my readers (for whom, after all, I am writing) but also, to better understand my own life, my feelings, and the amazingness that exists for us all.
(my current blog is AdventuresInSpiritualLiving.wordpress.com)
A former management consultant who was constantly on the move, Marie Colantoni Pechet now lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband, two sons and one dog. Her favorite escape in life is to compose and revise written pieces on the computer or in her head. Her finished posts can be found at AdventuresInSpiritualLiving.