In Praise of Louise DeSalvo—and Slow Writing (plus Giveaway)

Recently, while skimming the New York Times obituary section, I was sad to see a name I recognized: Louise DeSalvo, author of numerous memoirs, essays, fiction and writing books. 

Although I didn’t know Louise, I’ve admired her from afar. Her book The Art of Slow Writing is one of my favorite resources for encouragement, insights and practical advice. So, for my last post of 2018, I’m sending out a small thank you to Louise—and giving away a copy.

I discovered Slow Writing several years ago during one of my periodic (and typically unsuccessful) efforts to become more organized and productive.  After picking up Daniel Levitin’s The Organized Mind (too much brain science for me, but you can find some key recommendations here), I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (but didn’t do the work—and, alas, produced no magic). 

Then I came across The Art of Slow Writing, which encouraged me to look at productivity in a different way. Mostly it reminded me that writing—like most creative endeavors—requires time and patience to do well. 

Reading the book feels like spending time with a wise, empathetic and pragmatic writing coach. Louise draws upon the sorts of time-management books I look for every January, plus her many years as a writer and teacher. Best of all, she shares the fascinating habits, struggles and strategies of many successful writers, past and present. Consider:

  • Michael Chabon spent five years producing 1,500 pages of a novel before ultimately abandoning it (shortly thereafter, he began writing his bestselling book Wonder Boys—centered on a writer struggling to complete a problematic novel—so his experience was not entirely for naught).
  • Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) spent three and a half years doing the research for her novel The Signature of All Things.
  • Many acclaimed novelists—including Jeffrey Eugenides, Donna Tartt, and Zadie Smith—typically spend five, eight, ten years writing their books, with some of that time spent completely re-imagining, restructuring and rewriting their work.

Not that I wish years of frustration on anyone, but hearing about the challenges faced by well-known authors makes me feel better about my own wrong turns and dead ends. 

Because Louise primarily wrote memoir and fiction, most of the authors mentioned come from those genres. Still, the lessons apply to picture book writers and illustrators–or anyone involved in a creative enterprise. Here are a few examples:

  • Keep a Process Journal. Before beginning work each day, record your intentions, any thoughts about the story, and—especially—your anxieties, frustrations, or accomplishments regarding the work. 
  • Use mindfulness techniques. If, like me, you occasionally approach your work with anxiety or negativity (e.g.,what a stupid idea; this will never sell), try cultivating a sense of curiosity and openness toward it—and yourself—instead. 
  • Study good books. (Sound familiar?) Several of us here have talked about the value of typing up the texts of favorite picture books. It turns out novelists do the same thing—not entire books, of course, but they do copy sentences, paragraphs, and long passages to absorb the words and technique of the author.

In addition to loads of practical tips, the book also offers advice on how to balance writing with life—family, work and community—and how to deal with the inevitability of rejection (lots of rejection).

Above all, Louise emphasizes the importance of understanding ourselves, our patterns, and what motivates us, both on a day-to-day basis as well as over a lifetime, recognizing that our writing habits won’t be the same when we’re single and childless as when we’re juggling work and childcare, or elder care, or grieving the loss of a loved one. We’re complex beings, after all, constantly evolving as we learn and grow and adapt to changing circumstances.

It’s a gem of a book, and a gift to all of us who sit down to write every day (or aspire to). So, thank you, Louise.

B O O K   G I V E A W A Y 

To win a copy of The Art of Slow Writing, leave a comment below by January 1st. I’ll announce the winner in my January 8th post.  

Do you have a favorite book you turn to for writing inspiration? Or time management advice? (I like The Power of Less by Leo Babauta). I’d love to hear.

Thanks, as always, for reading. And here’s to a happy—if sometimes slow and occasionally frustrating—writing life in 2019!

Linda

Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman is the author of more than 35 picture books, as well as The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a “how to” e-book for picture book writers.

93 Comments:

  1. I’d definitely be interested to read her insights, and inspiration from various writers!

  2. Oh, this post made me feel better about my slow going. I’m very interested in her tips for how to balance my writing life.

  3. Just getting started on a new book idea…..this book may be just the motivation I need to kick me off of the ledge and get me really moving! THanks for the chance!

  4. Thabks Linda – this book sounds interesting. I like the message, especially in such a fast season.

  5. Boy, do I need that book. I have been unable to write for several months. Part of the reason is my mind is cluttered. I need help! This book sounds great.

  6. This sounds like a very intriguing book. Thank you for sharing this resource. I’d love to win a copy!

  7. I struggle with “mental clutter” when I try to write. It really slows me down. Would love to win a copy of this book!

  8. Sounds like a book I need to read! Thanks for a great post!!!!!

  9. Louise is certainly right about how our life situations change our writing and our writing habits. Thanks for sharing this book with us.

  10. The advise here is fantastic. Slowing down can be great in many situations.

  11. This sounds like just the sort of wisdom I need. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

  12. This sounds like a must-read for every writer. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  13. We all tackle our writing in different ways. It’s always good to get tips from others that might help make ourselves more productive.

  14. I could use a dose of writerly wisdom right about now. This sounds like a wonderful book!

  15. Thanks for sharing this, Linda. I’m sure this book will speak to many writers, myself included! I, too, read THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP. Unfortunately, I don’t know where I put the book…if that gives you any clue as to how that “magic” worked! 😉

  16. Sounds like I’m on the “write” track…would love to learn more!

  17. Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write inspired me. I’ve read others through the years and haven’t hit on another that has the same quality. I’d like to read Slow Writing because like everyone said, it is what we need to do.

  18. Sad to hear she’s gone, but what a gift she left us all. Thank you so much for sharing her words, and in such a serene, insightful way. THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION, by Donald Maass, is one I keep close by.

  19. Thank you. This book sounds perfect, for me and several of my writing friends. Already on order.

  20. Thanks for the book recommendation and the wonderful encouragement and tips in your post!

  21. As a writer/illustrator it seems like this book would be helpful for any creative process. I’m excited to read more. Thank you for posting.

  22. The part about using mindfulness techniques sounds like something I really need to put into practice. Thanks for the post!

  23. I’m so happy to have “stumbled upon” this blog. (No accidents in the Universe, right? Everything is cause and effect!)
    It’s not just the level of expertise that is so freely offered — I can feel the hearts of every contributor I’ve read so far, and they’re all in a genuinely good place.
    Makes my predominantly right-brained self feel very at home! Thanks so much!

  24. This book sounds like one I need in my life right now. I’m struggling with my creativeness and other life issues and need help with perspective adjustment. Thanks for the post and chance to win a copy of this book.

  25. Thanks, Linda, for this recommendation and post.

    It reminds me that it’s time to pull out one of my favorites — Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk, And Other Truths About Being Creative. By Danielle Krysa, Illustrated by Martha Rich, Chronicle Books.

  26. I am intrigued by your thoughts on this book. Just ordered it from the library. Thanks

  27. Thank you for a very timely recommendation! I just ordered this from my library and look forward to reading it.

  28. This book sounds wonderful. I’ve been getting on myself for my slow pace. Still discovering my process and it’s just plain slow. I’m sorry she’s gone, but she left a wonderful legacy.

  29. Thank you for the great post. It could not have come at a better time as I am knee deep (still) in revisions.

  30. Sounds very interesting. Thanks for posting!

  31. Thanks for this idea. Sounds like something I could benefit from!!

  32. I’m definitely working on not dismissing my “stupid ideas” so quickly.

  33. For writing inspiration, I love Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. For time management tips, I recommend 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam.

  34. Sounds like the shot of focus and patience I need. Thanks for calling attention to her work and this book.

  35. This book looks fantastic. Thank you for sharing.

  36. I love hearing that some authors take 8 to 10 years to write their novels. Writing has helped me slow down in many areas of my life.

  37. Thank you, Linda, for this recommendation. Truly, in this speed-obsessed culture in which we write, this book sounds like a great antidote. I look forward to reading it. A book I have often turned to when I needed to re-calibrate is Brenda Ueland’s IF YOU WANT TO WRITE. I see that someone else mention it as well. It’s a real gem!

  38. Sounds like an excellent resource with so many tips and ideas for writers.
    Thank you for sharing this book with us!

  39. Thank you for sharing this resource. I was not familiar with it and look forward to utilizing it!

  40. I just requested this book from the library. Thank you, Linda, for introducing this title.

    The use of mindfulness techniques and having a positive growth mindset are so important as one reads, writes, and creates.

  41. Reassurance that slowness is not a fault is greatly appreciated.

  42. The Checklist Manifesto is amazing for keeping my time managed well. One of my favorite quotes is: [Checklsits] do not try to spell out everything—a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps—the ones that even the highly skilled professionals using them could miss.”

    Once I do my daily checklist of things I want to accomplish for the day, it keeps me focused on what’s most important.

  43. I am a slow writer. I did not know about this book! Cool! Thanks for sharing.

  44. Interesting. I really enjoyed this post!

  45. Linda, I have this book and it’s a gem. Two other books I turn to often is the Right to Write by Julia Cameron and Word Work by Bruce Holland Rogers. Both are like having a cup of tea with a good writing friend. Merry Christmas! And Happy New Year!!!

  46. I needed this book! My current WIP has been in and out of production for ten years. I sheepishly admitted that to one of my professional groups and we found that many of us have ten year novels. It is these novels I think, that are closest to the bone.

  47. Oh, I’m sorry to hear of her passing. I bought this book a couple of years ago and love it for all the reasons you stated. And thank you for pulling out some of your own tips – very helpful! The book is validating and helped me release my anxiety around others writing “faster” than me. Books take the time they take, whether they are longer works or picture books. Of course, sometimes an editor doesn’t see it that way. 🙂 Thanks again, dear Linda!

  48. Hi, Denise! It’s such a great book, isn’t it? I just re-read it and decided I should probably do that every year or two, just as a reminder of all the good stuff in it. Miss you, my friend!!

  49. Can’t wait to get a copy of this! I, too, am saddened when I discover a respected author is no longer with us !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *