Writing to Slow Down (By Patricia Goodson, Ph.D., P.O.W.E.R. Director)


Writing to Slow Down

By Patricia Goodson, Ph.D., P.O.W.E.R. Director


“On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur” (Evelyn Underhill). 


I found this quote in “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” (by Ann Voskamp), a book mentioned in my previous post. I've read the book several times and each time the quote forces me to take a hard look at, and question, my life “lived amateur”, as Ann would say. It forces me to face my harried and hurried attempts to get things done, to be productive, and I wonder…


I wonder whether I have succumbed to the temptation of this era: to value efficiency more than effectiveness, product over process, immediacy instead of immersion, speed before precision. Because “hurry always empties a soul”, I wonder if I have lived amateurishly and empty.


As I wonder, however, I remember: I write every day. The routine and daily grind of capturing and weaving words helps me slow down; helps me pay attention. Indeed, I conclude, it is because I write daily that I live life “less amateur”, less hurried, less empty. It is precisely when I slow down to write that I become more efficient. Paradox.


I slowed down, recently, during Spring Break. I wrote in order to slow down. I chose to respond to the journals students keep in one of my graduate-level classes. I went over each journal and crafted a hand-written response to everyone. Writing by hand and having conversations with other people’s words, made me … that’s right… quiet down and pay attention.


I slowed down enough to




delight in my students’ growth and learning.


I slowed down enough to

see them through their writing,

listen to their stories of learning,

hear the doubts and struggles,

savor the aha-moments and their gratitude,

reflect on how best to reach them,

and envision how best to teach them.


I slowed down enough to tell them how happy I get when I see they are learning, how privileged I am to have them in class. All of those things I am, often, too hurried to tell them face-to-face.


Slowing down: the mark of the non-amateur life; the mark of mature scholarship. Easier said, than done, of course, because I struggle with the practice. I bet you struggle, too. 


So, where to begin? How can we all use writing to slow down, to avoid a “life lived amateur?” May I suggest that, at least once in a while, you…


  1. Sit at our computer and stare at the screen for at least 15 minutes (if you prefer, sit with your paper journal). Don’t write anything. Instead, spend the time imagining where you would like the writing to take you: what doors would it open? What kinds of people would it allow you to meet? What opportunities would emerge, if others noticed your writing?
  2. During your writing sessions this week, accomplish only 1 task (a single one). After completing that task, stop and go take a walk. Make the task very simple and short: write one really bad paragraph, today; that’s all.
  3. Check out the International Institute of Not Doing Much (http://slowdownnow.org/ ) for a coherent rationale for slowing down, if the one I presented above does not convince you.
  4. Schedule power naps during the day, or during the week (there’s a reason they are called POWER naps, POWER people!). Sleep is extremely important for improving your writing.
  5. Spend more time reading for pleasure.
  6. Have conversations about writing, with some of your favorite people (preferably, with people who write, like you do).
  7. During a writing session, do not write text. Instead, play with isolated words, without concern for meaning: play with them because you like how they sound, or how you feel when you write them, or how they look when typed. Play with developing word clouds: see www.wordle.net;  or read “Poemcrazy” by Susan G. Wooldrige.
  8. Attend a workshop designed to improve your writing – but don’t write anything (see Daphne Gray-Grant’s “Time to take a break?” at http://www.publicationcoach.com/holidays/).


As you write-to-slow-down, however, beware: funny little surprises will begin to pop-up around you.  You’ll begin to notice and pay attention to people, events, and places you had previously ignored.  And, while you’re enjoying those surprises, and you’re not in a hurry, send me a note?  I would appreciate company as I practice writing-to-slow-down and deliberately avoiding a “life lived amateur.”