by Becky Levine
I don’t do resolutions. They stress me out and actually reduce my productivity. But I certainly, around this time of year, take a look at what I’ve been doing and muse about whether there are any ways I want to shift those things around. Do I want to reset a pattern that hasn’t been working for me? Maybe amp up one that has?
Every year for the past few years, I’ve picked a word that reminds me what I want to work on for the coming months. Sometimes it’s a word for my writing; sometimes it’s a word for my life. Often, there’s an overlap! (Lots of writers do this, but I first got my start from Laura Purdie Salas.) This year, on my own blog, I posted more of a life word. So I thought it would be fun to share my writing word with you here.
My word is SLOW.
I know—what? We so often try to write quickly, to get those words on the page, those pages in a binder. The idea of the fast first draft, of Anne Lamott’s shitty first draft, has become a mantra of many writers, and we talk about it a lot online. I love the idea of the fast first draft. It lets me get something down that I can work with, revise, improve.
Now I’m on the third draft of my current WIP. And fast…well, fast wasn’t working. I was revising, some, but I was also writing a lot of new material. And it wasn’t that different from the old stuff. Oh, people changed their conversations, characters made some new choices, obstacles shifted. But in terms of getting a step closer to the story I had in my head—a deeper story that kids might really connect with—I wasn’t moving toward that.
So I’m slowing down. Jo Knowles talks about writing your story and characters’ truth, and I’ve started giving myself more time for that. I’ve started looking more carefully at the action and dialogue I write, lifting my fingers from the keyboard, and making them stop typing—while I think about where the words are going. Whether they’re going anywhere.
And I’m revising. Not a whole lot while I write, but I’ve added a revision pass to each scene. A chapter doesn’t go into the pile until I’ve reread it, identified what it’s trying to do, and worked a bit more to bring it closer to that goal. I actively look for the truth—whether it’s a single line of dialogue, a really bad piece of internal monologue, or a joke that wants to do something bigger than just make me laugh. And then I rewrite the scene around that truth.
Do I succeed in writing the best chapter I can? Not every time. But I usually get closer. And I find myself making connections, writing a emotional moment with more power, tapping into deeper feelings from my protagonist. I wasn’t finding these layers when I wrote fast.
So, SLOW. And you know what’s really cool? It’s not just a word. It’s an acronym!
S: Slow down.
L: Look and listen.
O: Only then…
Okay, it’s a really bad acronym. But it’s a pretty good word, right?
What’s your word for the year? Let us know in the comments!
Becky Levine writes middle-grade novels and picture books. She has written two nonfiction children’s books for Capstone Press and is the author of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide from Writer’s Digest Books. Becky lives in California’s Santa Cruz mountains and, in her day job, is Foundation Relations Manager at The Tech Museum of Innovation. She also blogs at beckylevine.com.