From the Archive: Slow Down

This week's craft post orginally appeared on YA Muses in November 2012. A big welcome to Brenda Windberg, Free Expressions staff member and independent editor, to the Write Line Blog!

When I think back on the best writing advice I ever received, I have to blush and admit that particular bit of wisdom must be filed into a subcategory as well, something I like to call ‘smart things I should have listened to but didn’t.’

Before I trot out my shoulds, let’s talk about the advice itself, which was brilliant from the very first moment it hit my ear, even if I wasn’t experienced enough to know it yet. It came to me via my agent, or the man who would ultimately be my agent, shortly after I met him at a writing workshop, and immediately after he made my head explode by asking me to send him my novel when I finished it.

To set the stage, at that point in my career, I was about as new as a newbie can get, fresh out of suburban Wisconsin and determined to make the most of every single minute in the ‘literary big city.’ So, when the agent’s next words were, “Don’t rush. I’ll wait for your best work,” I can’t actually promise I heard him. I mean, I HEARD him speak, and I fully understood what the words meant, but the waves of adrenaline filling my veins with celebratory bubbles might have been a wee bit distracting when it came to the actual storage and application of said wisdom.

So, long story short, I TOTALLY and COMPLETELY rushed. I made the classic clichéd mistake, speeding through the writing process so the agent wouldn’t ‘forget about me’ and finishing a draft in just under three months. Of course, the end result was amateurish and awful—a novice in a hurry…oy. Just oy.

Fortunately, however, this agent also had patience and a very good heart. Along with his kind rejection, he generously and sensitively offered feedback on my little monster, feedback I diligently applied to the rewrite—which I finished about nine months later. Though still not the best version of my story, this draft showed him I could slow down and thoughtfully apply myself, abilities I should have displayed the first time around. And, finally, the next draft convinced him I was client material. Again, thank goodness for the man’s patience.

Now I know my story ends with a happy ending, but I cannot stress enough how ridiculously lucky I was—like, seriously, Powerball lucky. Honestly, I’ve been an independent editor for more than a decade now, and the experience I’ve just shared is simply not the norm. With frustrating regularity, clients find themselves on the wrong side of opportunity because they rush, because they give in to the panic, to the frantic voice screaming that some other author will rush in and steal their moment, their idea, their place in literary history. And as a result, they make the process longer and more stressful. Instead of climbing steadily toward success, they careen through peaks and valleys, sentenced to travel the back roads instead of the highway, at least until they relax a bit.

In my case, now on the far side of two additional novels, I’ve discovered even more applications for this amazing piece of advice. By far, the best of those was learning that, when I slow down and immerse myself in the world of my own story, in addition to writing smarter and stronger, I also open up to the story possibilities, to all the things that make my work singular and spellbinding and potentially spectacular. Truly, there is no better gift.

So…take a deep breath, and then another. Listen as I pass along this crucial piece of advice: Don’t rush. Do your best. Your story waits for you and you alone

-- Brenda