Sometimes you have to slow way down to make any progress.
This week, as I continued to revise my memoir, I found myself getting stuck in places where I didn’t know what to do next. Sitting there, not knowing, felt excruciating. I just wanted to forge ahead.
What confused me was that sometimes, forging ahead is exactly what is called for. Sometimes you need to stop pussy-footing and start stomping. So, I started stomping ahead, reworking my outline, seeking answers in writing books, pushing scenes together, frantically trying to avoid my rising anxiety. Until, I found myself feeling tight and constricted with writing that felt forced and a story that felt rushed.
So, I did what George Constanza tried once in a Seinfeld episode: “I did the opposite.” I slowed down. When I felt nervousness rising, about what I was going to do next, I stayed with it. I stopped pussy-footing, even. I let myself sink into scenes. I wrote into scenes longer. I wrote more. I did not worry about going back to edit. What I discovered is that the slower I went, the more I made real progress. Going slow helped me keep my story moving. When I was racing to get through, the story came to a complete standstill as if the story did not like being rushed, as if the story stopped when it felt me pushing. It just wouldn’t cooperate.
I read somewhere about this idea that a story or an artwork is already “there,” you just need to peel away enough to find it. This is not a fast process. You need to take time. There’s no rushing it. Rushing it means you may lose it.
Do you notice this in your own creative practice?
Discernment is crucial because sometimes, it’s time to say “it’s done” or “it’s time to move on.” How do you know when to push a little and when to slow down? It comes from deep listening and deep honesty. And if you really can’t tell, you can talk it through with a good listener.
The moment I slowed down and stopped rushing, I felt better. A clear sign! Then, I was able to write more. Another sign! And the writing felt deeper and more honest. How many more signs did I need?! My whole being felt open and engaged, rather than tight and constricted.
When it’s time to edit and finish, I’ll be looking for the sign that it’s time to move on. For now, I’m slowing down to speed up.
Painting of Trachemys scripta elegant, also know as the Red-eared slider, by Karl Bodmer, 1865.