Monday, 5 March 2012

Magdalena Ball--On The Value of Slow Writing

 With great delight  I welcome Magdalena Ball to Slow and Steady Writers today, talking about her writing process and her new novel Black Cow. I am a great admirer of the versatility of her writing which encompasses poetry, short stories, reviews, articles as well as novels.  If you are lucky enough to attend her content rich workshops at Muse Writers Conference and Writers on the Move, you may find this hard to believe but she says she is one of the world's slow writers too...

On the Value of Slow writing

Since I'm out touring my new novel Black Cow, I've been doing a lot of interviews. The first thing I always get asked is about what I'm working on now. Of course I've got a work-in-progress and it's coming along, but if I provide a very exciting overview of the plotline, it doesn't mean that the book will hit the bookshelves within the next few months. I'm a s-l-o-w writer. Is that something I should admit? After all, buzz is all about right now. I'm doing my best to create buzz for my new novel. Should I disappoint my fans by telling them that it will be at least two years before I've finalised the first draft of my third novel, and that's not counting the six months in plotting I've already spent on it? Though it isn't as hot as the slow food movement, slow writing is gaining, well, momentum (that's momentum of the tortoise variety). Yes, it's a movement, if not a revolution.  So what is slow writing and why write slowly?

Slow writing is about putting quality before speed. Like a long, slowly cooked Coq Au Vin, slow writing is well crafted, with rich, complex flavours, and deep, powerful characters. This sort of writing can't be chugged out. There's not much in the way of a rote formula to help you if you want to write this kind of work. Everything has to be fresh, new, and impeccably crafted.  Slow writing not only takes time to craft at the front end, it takes revision. That's lots of revision, not only on our own, but with the help of a canny editor.  That often means that the work has to be left for a little while after a first draft is finished, maybe several months to gain some all-important perspective. Then the work has to be read critically, like a reader might, with an eye to rhythm, to character development, to story and character integration, to that subtle but critical transformation that occurs between the pages of the book. 

Research, Reading and Readers

Slow writing allows for full and extensive research. This means taking the time to really find out the historical context of the period you're writing in, reading extensively. It might involve travelling to your setting, or consulting other books, or interviewing experts.  

Slow writers have slow readers in mind. That is, readers who take the time to enjoy the care with which you've crafted your book, to enjoy the subtle references and connections, the implications, the deeper themes, and to find the poetry in your prose.

Slow writing doesn't mean that the book you create is difficult, unwieldy, or laborious. Quite the contrary, because the careful, slow crafting will almost always equate to a smoother, easier, and dare I say it, quicker read for the reader.  But together, the slow writer and the slow reader form a partnership that begins and ends with attention, that precious and all too rare commodity in these fast paced times. 

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novel Black Cow. Grab a free mini flip book of the book from 
Bewrite Books

And a final postscript from me to say that Black Cow truly is a very good book. When I have finished reading it I shall be adding yet another five star review to all the others already posted on Amazon. Find out more about the author and read an excerpt from Black Cow.


  1. Hi Maggie,

    This is a great post. I started your novel last night and I'm on chapter 4. So far, I'm really enjoying it and it's weird, but now that you mention slow writing, I did get the feeling while reading that you took great care with each word, each sentence, each idea. I'm also a slow writer by nature and I'm always trying different ways to gain more speed. For instance, I just signed up for a 'Book in a Month' workshop in order to finish the novel I started last summer. I feel torn between both types of writing. I love the passion that quick, free writing allows but at the same time I'm worried about quality. I guess the secret is to find a balance. I struggle a lot with my inner critic and this is why nanowrimo and this type of workshop are helpful in my case. I was shocked to find out that one of the participants writes 15,000 words a day and finishes 2-3 novels in a month!! But how good can the quality of the writing be, in this case?

  2. Annie, I'm with you - I'm a great admirer of Maggie's writing ability.

    Maggie, another insightful article. I'm a slow writer also, like Mayra, by nature.

    Thanks for sharing and best wishes for your book's success!

    Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

  3. Thanks Mayra and Karen. I'd very much like to do 15k a day and I definitely believe that sometimes extensive unbridled writing is valuable and of course setting and sticking to goals, but even when the writing is fast, high quality editing takes time. Annie, thanks very much for hosting me!

  4. Thanks so much Mayra and Karen for dropping by and adding to the discussion. I too am torn between pushing along at a fast sprint and letting things unfold at their own pace.
    Thank you Maggie for such a thought-provoking article and providing the vindication for those of us who prefer to write slowly.

  5. I'm a slow writer too. I'm amazed that after 5 or 6 professional critiques you can often still find mistakes in a manuscript. good luck with your tour.

  6. I don't think of myself as a particularly slow writer -- I'm too impatient, for one thing, and I'm not especially a plotter. I do plot somewhat more than I used to, but for me, it appears that the writing is a process of discovery. Sometimes, as a result, I end up revising, and revising again. And again.

    I'm working on two sci fi novels right now. The simpler of the two is a tween sci fi, written in the first person, that I started plotting in October. The second is one I started over a year ago. The present version is maybe the fourth or fifth major rewrite. But that's not slow -- that's simply not getting it right the first time. And that's okay.

  7. I find it very comforting that so many very good writers have added their thoughts to the discussion. I do agree Kathy. I know how hard we work as editors to produce the perfect book yet always somewhere, a mistake pops out with horrible clarity in the printed book.
    Four or five major rewrites? Maybe I'm not so slow after all then Peggy. It's just the length of time I leave between rewrites. I was depressed by the amount of rewriting I needed. Now I know I'm not alone I may find the courage to rewrite again.

  8. I too am a slow writer or maybe a slow revisionist. I need time for my ideas to percolate.


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