The Slow Writing Movement.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been researching promotion, trying to come up with a plan that isn’t so frenetic.  What I discovered was, rather than simply a new approach to promotion, I’ve been casting about for a sustainable method of writing.

By this, I mean writing without burning out and freaking out… and still potentially making a living.

You’d think this would be a relatively simple thing.  Apparently, it isn’t.

Nobody’s interested in making a living. They only want to make a fortune.

–  Joss Whedon

I have been burned out by reading writing blogs.  They seem to fall into two camps:  those that see writing as a business, and those that see writing as an art.

The writing-is-an-art camp.

Those that see writing as an art bemoan the state of literature.  That people only want crap.  That something like (I won’t name names — think of any runaway bestseller that people are panning the hell out of) can make the NYT list, but any writer with “real talent” is forced to make less than $50 a year indie-publishing his or her own book.

They usually talk about how they don’t care if they make any money or if anyone reads their books — they’re in it because they can’t help themselves, that their writing is purely about self-expression and writing the best book possible.  They see branding as a plague and writing as, essentially, a hobby.

Some may never complete a novel.

The writing-is-a-business camp.

There’s a spectrum here.

You have the aggressive self-promoting indie, for example, who is working on increasing his productivity, branding his work, posting on LinkedIn about his latest tweet about Pinterest pins.

Then you’ve got the anti-indie, who sees self-publishing as the lazy man’s way out, a fool’s gold rush for amateurs who can’t hack it.  This group might suggest that true writers know the industry, pay their dues, and realize that if you want to play with the big boys (and make the bestseller lists), you’ve got to think like the big boys.  Or, namely, the Big Six.

Here’s a new one.  Writing-as-farming.

Wait.  Writing as… farming?

If you think about it, there are a lot of parallels.  We’re producing something for others to, essentially, consume.  But we’re not constructing  a building or mass producing cars.  A lot of factors can influence the novel — and we’re never quite sure what the seed is going to ultimately yield.

You could just garden for yourself, sure.  No harm in that.  In fact, there’s a lot of pleasure in that, and you could putter around and try different things every season and if all you wind up with is weeds, well, shit happens.  Better luck next year.

You could try to start a commercial farm.  You could pick a really popular “crop” and plant a boatload, hope that you get a good harvest.  If corn suddenly becomes unpopular, you could tear up the soil and start over with beans.  It would mean a metric ton of work, and a good deal of risk, and you’d need to go for marketability and speed and transport — hardiness over flavor, in some cases.  You’d need a larger market to make the whole thing profitable.  It would be anything but a hobby.

The Artisanal Farmer.

Or you could grow stuff that you like, that you know other people want… because, well, you hang out with a lot of those other people, and they’ve said, “you know, I really wish someone would grow a really tasty heirloom tomato around here.”  And you’d think:  well, I frickin’ love heirloom tomatoes.  And I’ve got a good sized plot of land.  And you know these guys are willing to pay more for good, local, tasty tomatoes.

You might not make a living off it for several years.  But you’d have a bunch of really fun tomato aficionados to hang out with, and hey, yummy tomatoes.  That doesn’t suck.

As word of your tomatoes grows, you find that you’re onto something. You’re growing maybe some other stuff, too… corn and beans, let’s say, that are also heirloom and they work with the tomatoes. (Permaculture!)  And you’ve got enough demand that you’re ready to shift to part time on your day job.  And you bought the empty lot next to you, and you’re building the soil so you can grow a few more crops.

You’re not going to suddenly buy a twenty-acre farm out in the boonies.  But you can make a decent living, selling things people want, growing things you enjoy.  While you’re still working quite hard, it’s work you love.

Neither artist nor corporation.

While a delicious, luscious heirloom tomato can be a thing of art, I don’t think farmers think of themselves as artists.  They know that there’s craft, science, and hard work in what they do.  The plants don’t give a damn if your Muse is feeling recalcitrant.  The land needs what it needs.  And every day is different.

That said, they don’t all say “I’m going to compete with WalMart” either.  They’re not looking for the best tomato strain to travel cross country in an eighteen-wheeler so they can capture more market share.

The Slow Writing Movement.

I believe that writing involves hard work.  I think it’s important to know the industry, to understand the factors involved.  I think it means continually improving your craft, putting in the hours, planning and revising and being open to feedback.

I believe that writing means connecting with readers.  I think that it’s important to know who you’re writing for.  I think that this audience should be larger than simply yourself, although I think it can be considerably smaller than most would have you believe.

I believe that writers deserve to be adequately compensated for the work that they do.  I also realize that “adequately compensated” is a moving target, especially in the new world of digital publishing.  Yes, a book costs less than a latte.  But the author can, in theory, make more per copy on that “cheaper” book than he might have in a legacy publishing structure… even after overhead costs of editing, design and promotion are taken into account.  Things vary.

I believe that we can take some more time in crafting quality novels.

I believe that, through thoughtful connection rather than calculated hype, we can slowly build an audience that will sustain our work.

I believe that once we move away from the “bestseller” approach to fiction, we can start to develop a more enjoyable, higher quality, and still profitable model of business.

And I may be crazy, but I strongly believe I’m not the only author that thinks this way.

Please share, re-tweet, or forward… and let’s see if we can’t start growing a movement that, in my opinion, is long overdue.

43 Replies to “The Slow Writing Movement.”

  1. There have been a lot of great posts of late, but this one really threads the needle, Cathy. And I knew if I bitched loud enough about the suckie tomatoes this summer, something good would come of it. 😉

    I’m all for writing from the heart, but knowing it’s still a product. I want to provide the kind of value that leads to the slow build you describe. This is a model I can get behind! Way to summarize a lot of what I’ve been reading and thinking!

    1. This is the post I’ve been triangulating on for over a year. 🙂 And yes, your tomato complaint finally snapped it into place! Tomatoes FTW!

      Seriously, I love this idea. I hope others do, too. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I love it! You have said so succinctly what I have been dancing around in my mind for over a year. Slow writing…That’s good stuff. I am definitely reposting. 🙂

  3. “I believe that once we move away from the “bestseller” approach to fiction, we can start to develop a more enjoyable, higher quality, and still profitable model of business.”

    Boy, this really resonated with me. The last few years I’ve found myself enjoying small, indie films more than the blockbusters. I think the same is true with books and it’s one reason why I love my book club. It forces me out of my comfort zone and away from the bestsellers. We have really found some gems!

    As a writer, of course I want to have a quality product. I’m still an old fashioned believer in “if you write a good book, they will come.”

  4. Thank you all, so much, for showing your support. I love fiction writers, and I hate seeing so many of us get ground up in the mill, or acting like beggars battling for one heel of bread. I know there’s a better way to do this. Can’t wait to hear the discussions around — and see where this concept can take us! 🙂

  5. Great post, Cathy! It really resonated with me. I’ve been thinking a lot of these things too, but you put them much more eloquently than I could have. From now on, I’ll start thinking of myself as an artisanal author. 🙂

  6. As I read, I yearn for the opportunity to listen in on a conversation about these very issues. My experience is limited, but I know enough to realize I fall into neither the “art” or “business” camps. The idea of being an artesian farmer draws me. It feels honest as I seat the idea into my belief system.

    You have such a unique perspective, Cathy. And one that I feel is timely. Let’s get the word out– heirloom tomatoes are tastier, and better for you.

  7. “I believe that, through thoughtful connection rather than calculated hype, we can slowly build an audience that will sustain our work.”

    This. RIGHT ^ THERE!

    I’ve lurked on enough blogs, author sites, and genre loops to see the mad press of promotion go horribly wrong. Having Yahoo loops screaming, “Buy MY Book” every day is tiring. Asking me to “Like” an author page or a book on Amazon “just because” isn’t resonating with me, the potential reader.

    I get it. When my time comes and I get THE CALL, I’ll want the world to know. But is it wrong that I came out of the fan fiction community, where you posted a story and strangers read it, THEN gave feedback? Or I could announce the story on specific community sites for that fandom, inviting people to read my full story, then receive feedback directly from those readers? I grew a rather solid following of readers who enjoyed my work. I didn’t have to lure them with contests, bribes, or anything else. 🙂

    Word-of-mouth is bastard sibling in book promotions now. I miss that damn bastard.

    1. LOL. The Bastard is still there. But Word of Mouth still has to start somewhere, which is a problem for a lot of authors… who lose their damned minds, as you’ve seen.

      I know there’s a happy medium there, too. Another post. 🙂

  8. I’m on board! I completely agree and I would love to see more of this philosophy in the writing world and in the books I read. Thank you for saying it so eloquently. I’m happy to continue the movement.

    And thanks to Vaughn who sent me over here. 😉

  9. ‘I believe that writing involves hard work. I think it’s important to know the industry, to understand the factors involved. I think it means continually improving your craft, putting in the hours, planning and revising and being open to feedback.I believe that writing means connecting with readers. I think that it’s important to know who you’re writing for.’

    Yes, yes, yes!!! Count me in!

  10. LOVE this post. Yes! Slow-writing. 🙂 Makes so much sense, given how we have embraced the slow-food movement. Thank you for putting it into words this way.


  11. Thank you for this, Cathy! It is so helpful to have the right metaphor. I am prone to falling into the traps of the “writing as art” mentality (waiting on the Muse, not considering potential readership, etc.), and I get turned off by some of the really businessy productivity advice. But I would totally sign up for a Slow Writers Club, or a Society of Slow Writers. Or a Guild? That sounds kind of artisanal…

    1. Love “Guild.” Totally ties back into Permaculture, wherein a “guild” is a group of plants that all help each other grow.

      We are GUILD! 😀

  12. Yup! This is just what I’ve been trying to explain I want out of a writing career. I want to develop a sustainable career where I earn some money and can keep writing for a long time. I’m lucky that I don’t need to support a family off of my writing, but I also can’t just spend the kind of time and effort it takes to write well and earn nothing. There has to be an inbetween, and this post describes it. Thanks!

  13. This. Yes. I’ve been trying to come up with the perfect way to say this for ages, and apparently you beat me to it. (My writing partner Lisa DiDio sent me the link to this, because we’ve been talking about the concept.)

    I’d love to repost this on my own blog (giving proper credit, of course). It is just so spot on.

    1. Deborah — absolutely, feel free to re-post! This is a concept I’d love to share, and I’m very interested in seeing other discussions. Thanks for thinking of it!

  14. Planning to retweet! Would love to live on a farm…therefore, our 10 Day Book Club format does exactly what you’re proposing authors do…get their writing in the hands of readers, get feedback, tailor their work to sell within their market. At least, that’s what I am taking with me from your article…which I did enjoy. Thanks for sharing. Best to you!

  15. Where have you and your blog been all my life? 😉 Love this post. It is a breath of fresh air for this writer, who was growing increasingly frustrated with my current, slow-growing novel, but who also knows it’s one that NEEDs a little extra sun and water and pruning and time to make it to the dinner table.

  16. Cathy,
    Wow! This post summarizes everything I believe about writing and building an online community. Take the time to produce the best book you can and develop meaningful relationships with other writers based on sharing and mutual support. I will retweet this and mention it on my blog. There is such great wisdom in this post. Thank you!

  17. Yes, yes and yes! I love this concept. I do want to be published and I do want to make some money with my writing but I don’t have to be the next Nora Roberts to do that. Just finished Rock Your Plot and can’t to start my next book using some of your suggestions. Thanks for doing the work.

  18. Your Whedon quote was a good one and very apropos.

    Perhaps writers should think more often in terms of producing a portfolio of work that keeps on generating passive income. Doing so doesn’t require bestsellers.

    Writing big sellers used to be much more important. Books went out of print and stayed out, so they were regularly lost as sources of income. Books with the limited appeal to be only slow steady earners might never get published. As Whedon notes, everyone wants the ZIP! BANG! BOOM! money.

    With e-books, that’s no longer so. It’s easier to get them into the market and there’s no particular reason to take them out. Smaller followings and niche followings (some niches are pretty big!) are vastly more viable sources of long-term income — and vastly greater assets — than ever.

    Fiction writing careers look to be moving away from the stage of “I have to write THIS type of book” and “I have to sell THIS one book” and “I have to sell it for THIS amount of money or I’ll have no chance of getting into or staying in this business” into a phase of “I need to build a portfolio, however quirky or mainstream, that provides a passive income stream.”

    As long as you keep writing and keep improving, time is on your side in a way it didn’t use to be. There are so many more ways to win.

  19. Awesome post Cathy!

    It’s not all about the rush to be published, or to self-publish, as some writers would have us believe. That just leads to more stories out there which are either superficial trend-followers, or rushed onto Kindle unedited, simply not ready to be published yet.

    But it’s not about I-am-an-artiste, I-write-for-myself, it’s-all-about-the-Muse-dahling one book a lifetime writers either.

    I love the concept of the artisan writer! Stories that combine the writer’s creativity and individuality, with a commitment to really connecting with the reader and providing a quality experience that resonates.

    I’m avoiding the temptation right now to rush a Christmas novella into self-publishing this Christmas. Christams next year feels like an eternity away, but the story I offer will ultimately be better if I take it slowly.

    As you say, like the difference between an anemic water pumped supermarket tomato, picked early and hard so it can survive the long journey there; and a tomato picked fresh and ripe from your own garden, or one carefully picked the day before and sold at the farmer’s market.

  20. Love the idea. I’ve been working at this writing for 12 years–reading, preparing, attending conferences and of course, writing when life allowed. Novel is recently finished, professionally edited, corrected and ready for marketing–learning how to do that now. Since I am retired, I have more time for this, but still taking it slow.

    Nice to know others think the same way.

  21. Thank you Cathy! This is exactly what I have been looking for.
    I am a complete newb, never completed a book, though I have started many. I have dozens (or more!) writer’s help books, taken classes, etc., but I have always put it aside because I felt that I could never be a Christine Feehan, Nora Roberts or Jude Deveraux. It was just too intimidating.

    Because of you, I realize that I don’t have to be. I don’t want to get rich; I want to be comfortable. I want a good enough income that I can quit my day job and live where I want. I need to write, but I don’t want to be putting out 2 or 3 books a year.

    Thank you for you blogs and books. “Rock Your Plot” has already helped me immensely. I look forward to reading and using the rest.

  22. I love your analogy equating writing to farming. To be fair, some stories grow fast like lettuce. Others, like asparagus, take years to mature.

    BTW, anyone who quotes Joss Whedon is an instant friend. 🙂

  23. Hi, Cathy. Thank you for a poetic and metaphorically perfect post. I’m not a novelist, but I am a writer and gardener trying to cultivate mindfulness through focused attention. Since speed is causing so many problems for our society and our brains, slowing down is an old idea that I’ve seen trending among many different industries. You now have movements in slow travel, slow food, even slow web! It’s the back-to-nature movement of the digital age that could help save the planet. I’d love to discuss this idea with you in more detail–I have some ideas for how we might organize and develop a slow writing manifesto. You are welcome to email me through my (still-evolving) website. Thanks!

  24. Yes to everything, except that there’s nothing wrong with a best-seller that earns it, not by hype, but by the quality of the work.

    And there’s nothing wrong with slow – it takes time to do the work. The better the writing, the more work – which may or may not take lots of time, depending on the writer, but will always take lots of work. Sorry, but I believe most things published don’t get that work put into them.

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