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Question of the Month: Hurry, Hurry, Hurry!

by Susan Henderson on May 5, 2014

Why do we get so caught up in a sense that we need to hurry?

Hurry

I’ve been thinking more about last month’s blog and your comments, and it’s still with me… this slow-coming spring and the idea of planting seeds, nurturing the soil, and having faith in the importance and in the return of each season. It feels like a lesson I’m finally beginning to learn… that the seeds will grow and bear fruit; that the blank page we started writing on, where we first typed those early ideas and dreamed vaguely about a book that spoke to something deep in the soul will become something that speaks to others; that the journey is as important as the destination; that what evolves never takes the path or the shape we expected.

I’ve finished another draft of my book, and it’s starting to feel sturdy in so many ways. The shape of it is now clear and the reason I needed to write it is coming into focus. I’ve never enjoyed writing more—writing without deadlines, without the thought of anyone looking over my shoulder. I love the story I’m trying to pin down, and I even love the dance as parts of it stay hidden or try to squirm away from my control. I’m getting so very close to having the book I dreamed of writing, though I know it’s not there yet. That’s okay.

We have these false ideas of how fast we ought to do things, racing to the end. Sometimes I have to tell myself, “Wait a minute! What’s the hurry?”

I have examples all around me that what I value most, and what lasts, takes time. As I post this, Mr. H and I are about to celebrate our (hold on, I have to do the math) 22nd anniversary—27 years since our first date. Here’s a picture of us during that first year together that I posted on my author page. (I’m going to try to embed the post here but you may just have to click on that link).

Life, when you’ve lived long enough, and relationships, when you’ve seen them through enough ups and downs, can give you tremendous perspective. The strength of a marriage doesn’t happen overnight or because you will it to be strong. Mr. H and I happen to have awesome teenagers, but they didn’t suddenly appear that way. In marriage, as with raising children, it’s about day-to-day being there, listening, being ourselves, making mistakes, forgiving, realizing the one who got in trouble wasn’t always the one in the wrong, trying again, and so on. Books, too. They take time, and each writer has her own pace, her own balance to strike, and her own discoveries to make.

Sometimes the strength of a relationship is in the hard times that were weathered, the lessons learned, the humbling. Sometimes the glory of who your teens have become is where they disobeyed you and followed their own instincts. Sometimes the best writing comes from where you got stuck, when you put it away to let it breathe, when you let your guard down or set aside all the well-meaning advice you were given and wrote without thinking.

I’m still looking forward to weather where I can get rid of my coat, where I can sit on the porch without freezing, where all the seeds I planted break through the soil. I don’t even remember everything I planted. But in the meantime, I will enjoy the now, the tiny changes in color, the thick comforters we still need on the bed, the way the animals press up close at night, and the continued inspiration to dig deeper into this book. I’m fine with the pace of things. And by the way, I’m off in a week to meet with some folks about this book and feel unbelievably excited to place my manuscript into such talented hands!

If this feels like a repeat of last month’s message, it’s because some of us need help in the patience and faith department. :-) Some of us need to be beat over the head with our lessons.

So how about you? Talk to me about hurrying and slowing down and whatever you’ve learned about that, whether in writing or simply in living.

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Some thank you’s… to Great New Books and to the fine people who’ve left reviews of Up from the Blue. See you in June!

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Russell Rowland May 5, 2014 at 1:57 am

I always enjoy your posts, Susan. And I wish you and Mr. H a very happy anniversary. And congrats as well on finishing another draft of your new novel, which I can’t wait to read!

I’m afraid most of the best lessons I’ve learned about taking things slow, or patience, have come about completely by accident. From being knocked backwards when I tried to force the issue. I live with a voice in my head that convinces me on a daily basis that it is the truth, and I often make the mistake of listening to that voice, and react accordingly. And then I learn the lesson again that I just need to do what’s right in front of me, and not worry about strategies or manipulating the process. Trusting the process feels uncomfortable, but it has always been the right answer.

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Susan Henderson May 5, 2014 at 11:25 am

Why do I feel like there’s an editorial column or possibly a new novel in what you wrote?

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Jessica Vealitzek May 5, 2014 at 3:10 am

I’ve been thinking about this lately, too. You publish one book and everybody asks, “Are you writing another? Are you maintaining an audience?” I like to let ideas and characters sit in my head for a good while. I can build them better that way, and make sure they’re people I’d like to hang out with for an entire novel. I see writers whipping out two, three novels a year and it can be hard not to feel rushed.

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Susan Henderson May 5, 2014 at 11:29 am

Yes! People ask like it’s a quick process and you can just pop them out. Also, they don’t take into account the almost debilitating book tour.

I used to feel a lot of anxiety, comparing myself to those writers who write a book every year or two, but then I think of one of my favorite authors, Marilynne Robinson (Housekeeping, Gilead, and Home) and she pretty much spaces them out every 20 years.

Everyone, have you checked out Jessica’s new book?! http://www.amazon.com/Rooms-Are-Filled-Novel/dp/1938314581/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1399289141&sr=1-1&keywords=jessica+vealitzek

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Jessica Vealitzek May 6, 2014 at 12:10 am

Oh Susan, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

And–yes, I did the same. I thought about my favorite authors and they do not write that fast. So at least in that respect, I’m in good company.

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Susan Henderson May 6, 2014 at 12:34 am

xo!

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Julian Gallo May 5, 2014 at 9:57 am

I think a lot of it has to do with the “instant gratification” culture we tend to find ourselves in. Sometimes, anyway, depending on where you live, really. In New York City, literally everything is rush-rush-rush; now-now-now; and it’s easy to get caught up in that, even when you don’t want to be. When it comes to writing, everyone has their own pace, their own way of working. Some writers are able to work much faster than others but it’s natural for them. Others, it takes time. How many great authors only issue a novel once a decade (or more in some cases, i.e. Thomas Pynchon). Slowing down and taking it easy is a good thing, I think. It’s important to try to enjoy life and not feel you’re “on the clock” so to speak. I know the older I get, the less inclined I feel to rush around like a lunatic – and sometimes that’s not an easy thing living in a city like New York.

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Susan Henderson May 5, 2014 at 11:33 am

You’re so write about the hurry-hurry culture, and maybe that’s the key, not allowing other people’s paces and expectations throw you off of your own. I’m not a lazy writer–I work every day for hours and hours, but I think in layers, and I don’t have all my ideas at the front end. I admire writers who see everything they want to see at one time and write from page one to the end as if it’s a linear process, but I no longer strive to be like them. Different wiring and different processes.

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Paul Cunningham May 5, 2014 at 11:37 am

A few months back a movie producer asked me if I’d be able to work on two scripts at one time. He also wanted me to agree to adapt a novel he had the rights to sight unseen…

And the weird thing is, I’ve almost always bought in to the rush primarily because I’ve always felt that if I didn’t I’d get kicked off the planet due to insufficiency. Granted, where I grew up, my writing was definitely not encouraged. So it was a guerrilla mission when I did it. I carried that sensibility through with me into my adulthood and it’s been drifting off slowly in weird pieces ever since.

I’ve also always underestimated the time any project of whatever sort would take, ignoring the lessons that any undertaking takes what it takes and needs a groundswell of experience underneath to achieve a decent resonance.

It’s been a long road getting to a place where I can surrender to the process of it all. Hasn’t helped that the world’s always wanted 23 dollars from me and I’ve always had 21.

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Susan Henderson May 5, 2014 at 11:46 am

I know what you mean about needing 23 and you always have 21! Funny how we learn to manage real life, and then have to keep relearning. Life says, Gimme! And life asks, When? And life says, Hurry! And then we have to respond while still honoring who we are and what makes sense for us and what is really possible. I’ve become a faster writer in some ways, but the good stuff always comes slowly, and I live for being surprised by what I learn and the parts of the story that seem to come accidentally, long after I thought I knew what it was all about.

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GC Smith May 5, 2014 at 1:44 pm

I’ve spent seventy-five years being fast at everything I do. When I worked as an Economist/Bureaucrat I always finished projects lickety-split and had to look around for something else. Later, after retirement from pencil pushing I took up a tradesman’s tools and went into a home remodeling partnership, where we did all kinds of projects but preferred doing wood and ceramic tile flooring. There too it was do it quickly and my partner was no different from me. I write the same way. Poems usually take minutes, short stories a little longer, and a draft of a novel perhaps two or three months. Edit sessions are a bit slower than drafting, but not much.

Why? What’s the rush?

I dunno. There is no good reason, it’s just how I do things.

Currently, I’m slowed down on the “Mudbug Tales” because I’m negotiating with the McIllhenny Company re the use of their Tabasco trademark and their recipes also and the possibility of them selling the book in their tourist outlets. They have the ms and it’s circulating through departments for approvals (trademark usage, recipes, perhaps some of their photographs and banners, and cutting a deal for them to stock the book). I’ve been told by their trademark rep that this process will take some time. Meanwhile, I’ve done several line edits, a structural edit, and I’ve added a few vignettes.

So I wait and because I don’t have slow down genes in my makeup I’m going to fill some time with golf. I’m going out in a few minutes to play with some redneck buddies. We’ll do the golf round in three hours rather than the standard four or the dragging five. Then beers and hot dogs and lies on the clubhouse porch.

I guess that’s slowing some.

GC (Jerry)

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Susan Henderson May 5, 2014 at 3:26 pm

See, but you’re going at your own pace and not feeling pressure to go at another’s so that’s great. Beers and hotdogs and stories on the porch sounds great, too. Wishing you tremendous good luck on your deal with McIllhenny!

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Jim Nichols May 5, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Yeah, that gardening analogy is right on. Wish I didn’t have to spread so much manure around before the green shoots start to come up, but I guess that’s the way I have to do it :) As long as that manure eventually evolves into rich soil, and as long as those green shoots eventually DO come up, all fresh and full of new life.

Boy I’m looking forward to that next book of yers.

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Susan Henderson May 5, 2014 at 7:13 pm

I’m looking forward to yours, too! And it’s funny how there are lessons all around us if we’re open to them.

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Christopher Lincoln May 5, 2014 at 4:16 pm

I find speed a good thing for writing, but not so much for re-writing.

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Susan Henderson May 5, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Ain’t that the truth!

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Gail Siegel May 7, 2014 at 11:41 am

Well, my life is such a disaster, between a full-time job and a disabled spouse, that my writing lives at the intersection of hurry and wait. So I wait all week or month or two months for a few hours to myself, sometimes mulling something over in line at the grocery store or on the train and scribbling down a note in the meantime. Then I write what I can-usually flash. So all of this is a game of patience. Calibrating expectations throughout long seasons of dry and cold, and then hoping for a spring that lasts long enough for anything to bear fruit. Less like a gardener, more like a farmer-shut in and repairing machinery and sharpening tools, grateful when I can finally till the soil.

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Susan Henderson May 7, 2014 at 11:47 am

I think you just wrote a beautiful piece of flash fiction. Seems that your writer mind is busy observing and composing even as life doesn’t give you the time to put it on paper. I’m sorry you’re not finding time for yourself these days. And for all that’s hard and making you operate between hurry and wait. Your words are beautiful and full of zing. xoxo

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Jessica Keener May 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm

This is a beautiful meditation on your life and how so many areas in your life–work, children, marriage–have unfolded as they wanted to and needed to. What blessings. I’m happy to hear that you are feeling good about your new novel. That feeling supersedes any sense of time–fast or slow–doesn’t it? And feeling good about it suggests that you are honoring the path that your novel is carving out for you. I completely agree with you about not rushing. Rushing for me causes trouble most of the time. I’ll forget my keys when I rush out the door and that becomes symbolic for forgetting my keys to living in the present. Rushing makes me feel that my mind is ahead of my body and it causes a disconnect or a warble of sensibility, which feels uncomfortable. But what is rushing? It’s how we perceive it. As you wisely pointed out, it’s toxic to compare my speed to someone else’s. Sometimes speeding feels good but that’s not rushing, that’s what I would call excitement or joy. Congratulations on your anniversary. Spring is here!

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Susan Henderson May 7, 2014 at 12:18 pm

So beautifully said. And I love your distinction between rushing and speeding. And your thoughts about the disconnect between mind and body. Funny how many years it’s taken me to listen, to honor natural styles and rhythms, to trust that I have a story to tell rather than trying to guess the story someone else wants to hear. Slow learner. But everything I’ve learned comes from watching and listening to the smart and sensitive and wise people around me.

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billie hinton May 7, 2014 at 12:59 pm

I love that you are learning to honor your own writing process and pace. I think as a society we are taught to rush and to cram things in – quantity over quality – because we’re “supposed” to be busy and have lots of activities lined up for ourselves and our children.

Ever since we decided to homeschool 19 years ago I have insisted on having at least three “slow days” a week – days where we did not go to activities or try to cram things in, because I felt, and I still feel, that there is huge value in having empty spaces of time in which to putter and ponder and let things bubble up.

I still do that for myself and find I need that kind of unscheduled time to get anything of value done – whether it is riding or writing or even just doing chores.

This year I am doing my writing process somewhat differently than I ever have before. Because of the long long gestation of my first novel, and then the long time it was with agents and editors and still didn’t get ushered out into the world, I have had a sort of logjam of books in my head that were waiting to be written. And then when I decided to go publishing myself, against the advice of my agents, but later on with their blessings, the focus shifted from waiting to doing everything – so there was even more time where the books still not written were circling. I have always had an image of me being the airport control tower with all these books not yet written flying around me waiting for permission to land/be written – and once one is on the ground I can’t tell it to go back up and circle again – so I decided 2014 is the year of getting at least 4 of those planes on the ground.

I’ve using Alan Watt’s 90-Day Novel book and I’m writing a first draft every 90 days. In a way it’s a wild, crazy thing to do, but I can’t tell you how great it feels to land some of these planes!

I have over the past 4 years gotten more than that first novel out into the world but there are so many still circling.

It only works because Watt’s approach to writing is so close to my own – kind of a Jungian approach – and the only structured part is the daily practice and adhering to a page count daily goal – not an outline – to get the first drafts on paper. Suddenly I am feeling less like the airplane control tower and more like a plane myself – flying – a little bit free of the circling books. :)

In a weird way it feels like I am hurrying on the outside looking in – 4 first drafts in a year??! – but on the inside I feel like everything has slowed and I am in a perfect stillness because I’m letting these planes land now, finally, one by one.

(and of course having all these first drafts on the ground will create its own kind of editing logjam, but I think – hope – it will feel differently than having all those books inside my head feels)

Hope this makes sense – I think this is the first time I’ve formulated this thought about what I’m trying to do this year into actual written-down words. :)

Meanwhile husband and I are coming up to our 20th wedding anniversary, my son is home for only two weeks for the summer because he was offered (as a freshman! I’m so proud!) a research job with his favorite physics professor, and he is taking two summer classes as well so he can get lined up for more research in the math department, and I’m watching him as his plans and his life accelerate and he is loving all of it. I think he is having his own version of on the outside it looks hectic but on the inside he is feeling the zen stillness of finding his footprints in this academic world. And daughter has put herself on a rigorous, impressive schedule of preparing for the SAT in June – she is working hours a day on her studies and the goals she has set for herself.

Now that I write that it seems like for all three of us this is a year of finding the stillness in the center – between the three of us there are lots and lots of planes in the air.

I hope you get warm weather soon! We are hitting 90 for the first time this year this week and so the season of offering cold hosing to horses and pony begins. I’m not a fan of the high heat but I do love standing out beneath the oak tree with the hose, letting each of them dictate which spray setting they want on which part of their bodies – they each have their favorites and it is so much fun to have that conversation with them.

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Susan Henderson May 7, 2014 at 1:25 pm

I love (and deeply understand) the idea of landing planes, of emptying the head of chatter and story loops. I have that 90-day book in my house somewhere, though it’s not calling out to me just yet. I’ve heard it’s wonderful, though, and sounds like a huge breakthrough and relief.

Congratulations to your kids on all they’re doing. And thank you for the story of spraying the horses. That image is going to keep me smiling all day. It’s in the high 50s today so definitely feeling like spring, and the buds and leaves look ever closer to bursting open!

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billie hinton May 7, 2014 at 3:26 pm

In all that I forgot to say: the other day Steve the Greyhound came into my head and a sort of picture book story of him on a walk with you while you composed pieces of your novel. And what he might be saying if he were writing his own book about walking his novelist around the neighborhood each day.

I do not know where this stuff comes from but writing it here represents this little airplane landing. :)

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Susan Henderson May 7, 2014 at 6:10 pm

What a great image! You’re welcome to it if that’s a book you’d like to write or a plane you’d like to land. : )

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Tricia Dower May 7, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Dear Susan, thank you for this. It has reached me at just the right moment. I feel such pressure to be done with my next book, partly because of my age — will I live long enough to see it in print? — and partly because I’m anxious to get out from behind my computer and enjoy other aspects of life. Writing a novel is all-consuming for me. I’m trying to give myself permission to let the book fully imagine itself in its own good time.

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Susan Henderson May 7, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Tricia, I’m so glad to have company standing ground against the pressure to be different than who we are or turn in work that’s less than our best in order to feel like we’re “keeping up”. I work for hours and hours every day, so I’m certainly not twiddling my thumbs. But my process of writing is anything but linear. Sometimes I feel more like an archaeologist who knows the general area to dig in and has some idea of the time period of treasures I’m searching for… but whether I find a broken tea cup or a mummy once I start digging is all part of the glorious surprise. And often, the more I discover, the more my questions change or deepen. I look forward to reading your next one, whenever it’s ready.

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Tricia Dower May 8, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Thanks! I relate to your archaeologist imagery. Discovering things is what I like best about writing. I look forward to your book, too. I so enjoyed Up From the Blue.

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Susan Henderson May 8, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Awww, thanks!

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Meg Murphy May 8, 2014 at 3:09 am

All my significant knowledge about life developed from working with horses. Being by instinct prey animals with their best option for survival being flight, horses display the type of extreme sensitivity often lost, forgotten, or deeply buried by most humans. Such sensitivity lends itself to training so nuanced and powerful that even when a human is unaware of their actions, they are influencing the horse’s behavior. The horse, therefore, often serves as a mirror reflecting a rider’s insecurities, frustrations, and anxieties.

Once, while attempting to clip a jittery horse, I became frustrated, clicking my tongue, sighing, occasionally interjecting , “Quite!” for (what I thought) good measure. About thirty minutes into my attempt, my trainer came around the corner, smiled, took the clippers into her hands and began cooing at the horse. She turned the clippers off, showed them to the horse, pet the horse soothingly with them. She took deep belly breaths, turned the clippers back on, and repeated the earlier process of showing, petting, cooing. The horse calmed, stood still, lowered his head and licked (a sign of comfort and acceptance). In fifteen minutes of work she’d relaxed a high-strung horse and done what I hadn’t come close to accomplishing in my thirty minutes. After, she looked at me and said, “If you act like you have fifteen minutes, it’ll take all day. If you act like you have all day, it’ll take fifteen minutes.”

I often think of the above situation when I feel hurried or frustrated with myself or my writing. I turn the clippers off and go back to the beginning with a gentle understanding tone: “What am I trying to communicate in this piece?” I look over my work thus far and do a bit of petting, “Look how much you’ve done so far,” and “This part is especially good.” I then take a few deep breaths and turn the clippers back on, “Which part do I need to focus on now?” This act of self-compassion and understanding helps me slow down, reminds me what is important, and alleviates the strain of expectations. Sometimes, all we really need is fifteen minutes and a bit of self-empathy.

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Susan Henderson May 8, 2014 at 11:39 am

What a great story. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I learned a similar lesson from my kids. When they were young, some days, I was so exhausted and in need of space at the end of the day, I’d try to hurry bedtime tuck-ins. We still sang and read a story and talked about the day, but they could always tell when I was trying to make it quick. Inevitably, those were the days of an hour and a half I-need-a-drink-of-water and calls from their beds and appearances in my room. When I really took my time and was in the moment, they were fast asleep or at least deeply content by the time I left their room… sometimes in only five or six minutes.

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Maury Feinsilber May 8, 2014 at 5:47 am

As is often the case, I haven’t a great deal more to contribute beyond riffing on the truly wise and heartening things you’ve already said, Sue. So in lieu of such, I thought you’d appreciate the following, the obituary of (yet another) literary master I’d only learned of by way of his passing. The headline of his obituary in the New York Times is, you’ll see, apropos to this month’s topic!
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/books/alistair-macleod-author-of-no-great-mischief-dies-at-77.html?action=click&module=Search&region=searchResults&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2F%3Faction%3Dclick%26region%3DMasthead%26pgtype%3DHomepage%26module%3DSearchSubmit%26contentCollection%3DHomepage%26t%3Dqry470%23%2Falistair+macleod&_r=0

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Susan Henderson May 8, 2014 at 11:40 am

That was so worth the read, and I ordered the book, too.

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Maury Feinsilber May 8, 2014 at 5:49 am

(Okay, Mr. Luddite’s cut and paste of the article seems to look a bit, er, ungainly. The title reads “Alistair MacLeod, A Novelist in No Hurry, Dies at 77.” I assure you that the reading is worth your while, the sprawling link notwithstanding).

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Susan Henderson May 8, 2014 at 6:48 pm

This is a great interview and pretty much describes the editorial process as I’ve known it: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2014/05/author_joshua_ferris_and_his_book_editor_reagan_arthur_of_little_brown.html

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Susan Henderson May 8, 2014 at 6:59 pm

If you’re not careful, you might slip into the rabbit hole of author-editor interviews: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2013/10/conversation_between_donna_tartt_author_of_the_goldfinch_and_her_editor.html

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Ric Marion May 13, 2014 at 4:13 pm

Don’t you just love that moment in your rough draft when all you can think about is the rush to the end? Gotta get it done, gotta get it down, can’t wait for the coffee to finish brewing before heading to the office, don’t want to go to bed because it’s all working so well.
And all that speed, the hurry, comes calling after months, maybe years, of daily poking in the gray matter, trying to get the right approach, the right characters, the right sentence to follow the other right sentence, the slow maturing of the idea, waiting, slowly waiting.
Then, when the last page is done, tucked away, edited, re-edited, sent to beta readers, comments appreciated (mostly) and errors fixed again, hurrying to get the query letter just right, sending it off and slowly waiting for the responses, then rushing to ship off partials, whole manuscripts, then back to slowly waiting again.

80 degrees here, beautiful Blue Michigan sky. Winter has finally gone, yet whispers in a cool breeze, gone but not forgotten, to return too soon.

Happy Anniversary, Susan. Much to be said the for the comforting companionship of someone who has learned to live with a writer. We can never appreciate them enough.

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Susan Henderson May 13, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Sometimes, often, I think about putting together a book that’s just your brilliant observations and stories and wisdoms that I discover in the comments section. I hope you’re all reading each other’s comments because when I do I keep thinking, Wow, I can’t believe I know these people. I feel like the luckiest person on earth.

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Ric Marion May 13, 2014 at 4:58 pm

On the contrary, my dear Susan, You are the special one, providing this space and goading us to write intelligently, on some random topic every month. I learn as much from other posters as anywhere else. And it is interesting to see you in unguarded moments, talking about Mr. Henderson, and the kids, it shows a well-rounded, well-grounded soul, so happy with life, it has to be shared. I think WE are the lucky ones.

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Susan Henderson May 13, 2014 at 5:27 pm

What a sweet thing to say. For me, it’s definitely the community here, the voices you all bring and the stories you share, that make this place special.

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