Pulled by Words

“The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.”

-Raymond Chandler

Lately I’ve been writing fast, the opposite of what I’ve been doing for years and not at all what I’ve taught in workshops.

When I first began to write seriously, I wrote as slow as possible, word by word, sentence by sentence, as I’d read Annie Dillard did. This became a kind of self-inflicted torture; I was so busy “perfecting” things in my head that not much ended up being written. In graduate school, one of my teachers recommended getting as much down as possible so you have something to work with, comparing words on the page to stone ready to be carved.

Lately, I’ve been writing fiction and it seems to work best with speed, letting the story pour out without holding back, writing feverishly, in bold thrusts. There is something that happens in that mad rush: being pulled by words, by the story, instead of you trying to pull it. Afterwards, I go back and fine tune, taking it slow during revision.

One thought on “Pulled by Words

  1. The writing process is a fascinating topic. My son, who writes fiction and narrative poetry, has a completely different approach to – and, likewise, different strengths in – his writing than do I. He is a “fine tune as you go” guy who takes his time producing drafts. I am a “sketch artist,” working (as I do in fine art) exceedingly quickly, trying to capture the form-in-motion of a piece; of course, my approach requires several rounds of (sometimes heavy) editing. I also have long periods of time in which I do not write one word…sometimes for weeks or even months at a time. I used to denigrate myself for this perceived weakness, until I realized that I was actually thinking and mulling over my work in a very deep, personal way. I call this “percolating.” When that phase is finished (usually unpredictably), the words flow out in a rush, usually in one or two sittings. I have learned to trust my own natural process of writing, and, while I wish I could more consistently speed up my percolation phase, I trust that I am where I need to be at any given time. I think one of the best and most challenging aspects of writing involves getting to know your individual process, what works for you to produce solid drafts…and to embrace your own process. (Thank you, Minter, for helping me to recognize this trait in myself!)

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