AWP Dispatch: "Do Not Hurry, Do Not Rest"

This dispatch comes from the esteemed Lighthouse faculty member Rebecca Berg, who recently taught a workshop on William Styron and is cooking up other great workshops for readers and novelists as we speak. Or--read, I guess!

For me, one of the highlights of AWP was the panel "Teaching Working Adult Writers," offered by instructors from Grub Street (Boston's Lighthouse counterpart). I went hoping for some teaching tips and came away with a big fat writing tip. Which makes sense. After all, I am myself a working adult writer.

The tip came from Goethe, by way of novelist Michelle Hoover: "Do not hurry, do not rest." Michelle said she kept that dictum pasted to her wall while writing her own novel (The Quickening, forthcoming from Other Press). Smart. It's especially good advice for working adults. When you're feeling the press of obligations--not to mention your mortality--how can you not rush? I know I have to resist the temptation at every turn. Sometimes I turn out to have been rushing even when I thought I was being over-the-top painstaking.  It sneaks up on you.

So how do you know you're rushing? (I'll get to "never rest" in minute.) From the writing itself, I guess. Yesterday I was printing out some samples from a manuscript I thought I'd finished a year ago. And hm. Those characters still weren't saying the right things to each other. Still.  With hindsight I could see that I'd hurried when I wrote those lines for the first time five years ago and again when I rewrote them three years ago and again a year ago.

So maybe "do not rush" isn't necessarily about revising until your brain bleeds. It might be about lying down and staring at the ceiling until you're not in the press of your own daily life but lurking timelessly in the scene you're conjuring, seeing your characters from the inside and the outside at the same time. You do that, and maybe a line comes to you: of course that's what that character would say. You know it as if you're watching, not inventing. You get up, you write it down. Yes! And you go on to the next line. But hm. No, Rebecca, you were trying to move too fast. Go lie down.

Funny, that. For me, the "never rest" part definitely means: "Don't forget to go lie down."

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