The Art of Slow Writing:
Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity

by Louise DeSalvo

St. Martin's Griffin, 2014. ISBN 978-1-250-05103-5.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 02/19/2015

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Creative Life

I have found that ideas may come quickly but the actual writing to completion can be slow. That's why I was very attracted to Louise DeSalvo's book, The Art of Slow Writing. DeSalvo shares her own writing process, while examining the benefits of writing slowly, and describes the work habits of other very successful writers. The book is full of useful advice and tips gathered from decades of practice and research.

Part One, "Getting Ready to Write," explores the beginning stages of the writing process." Part Two, "A Writer's Apprenticeship," examines how long it takes writers to learn their craft or develop a new project. (Margaret Atwood says "writing is acquired through the apprentice system.") Part Three, "Challenges and Successes," addresses "learning patience, overcoming a fear of failure, and cultivating determination." Part Four is "Writers at Rest" and Part Five is "Building a Book, Finishing a Book."

DeSalvo, a teacher and writer, is also a "passionate foodie." She likens the slow writing process to the Slow Food movement. Like Slow Food, "slow writing doesn't just take time, but makes time."

Some "ha ha" moments for me occurred when DeSalvo said she protects her writing time by not engaging in long telephone conversations, Facebook, net surfing, and e-mailing more than once a day. I remember one of my writing mentors saying years ago: Ask yourself how will this (a particular activity) help my writing? Also, I'm noting to myself, slow writing doesn't mean not writing!

In "Writing and Real Life" DeSalvo describes an essay by Anne Tyler about writing in "the midst of life's chaos." The proverbial "a room of one's own" is impossible for most people who have to earn a living and have families and other responsibilities. I wonder: if I had an office outside my home I might be like Alice Munro, who wrote nothing in the office she rented except one story called "The Office."

I especially appreciated the chapter on the "Process Journal," one of the most important items in DeSalvo's writer's tool box. She plans projects in it, lists books she wants to read, and puzzles through challenges she's facing.

Sue Grafton is another writer who keeps such a journal. "Grafton keeps a separate journal for each novel; they're about four times longer than the novel itself."

"Our process journals are where we engage in the nonjudgmental reflective witnessing of our work. Here, we work at defining ourselves as active, engaged, responsible, patient, writers," DeSalvo says.

DeSalvo asks questions of herself and her readers such as: "And what if we thought, not of each individual work but focused, instead, on our writing life as a continuum, with the completion of each project viewed as another important step in a lifetime of practice?"

Although she says "viewing writing as practice rather than accomplishment can be a valuable shift in perspective," writing is also a craft to be learned and there are steps to take to actually complete a book. The "manager" part of DeSalvo decides when and how long she'll write and what she'll work on and the "laborer" part of her writes.

Louise DeSalvo has been writing since 1975 and says she's still a beginner, learning her craft, learning what it means to be a writer and learning what it means to be a slow writer. She has written short chapters based on decades of research. Each is summed up with a sentence or two that could be added to a writer's manifesto. The writing process combined with a "game plan" can help writers produce their finest work.

Louise DeSalvo is currently the Jenny Hunter Endowed Professor at Hunter College where she started Hunter's MFA in Memoir program. She has published seventeen books, among them Virginia Woolf and the groundbreaking Writing as Way of Healing. She lives in Sag Harbor, NY, and Upper Montclair, NJ. Many of her reflections began as essays on her blog.

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