Slow And Simple Writing

Slow And Simple Writing


Two weeks ago I wrote that I would try writing three or four times my usual output. The result was a failure. I did not enjoy writing more; I only managed about twice the output, and the quality of the extra was lousy and unusable.


That said…


I imagine it did me some good from a practice standpoint. I read recently in Steven Kotler’s book,The Art of the Impossible, that elite athletes have a practice method of first burning themselves out, and then pushing past that point to get a second or third wind. Pushing it in those stages can be just the thing to shock your mind and body to the next level of mastery. I’m not sure I got there, but I’ll keep trying. I just won’t use what is written if it’s not good.


Slow Life


The opposite of pushing to the limits could be called slow life. I’ve come across various slow movements over the years. The first was the slow food movement that arose in Italy in response to a massive McDonalds franchise opening up in Rome.


The movement was meant to celebrate everything that McDonalds and fast food was not: Cooking meals at home in your kitchen over several hours and enjoying them around the table with friends over several more hours. It also includes growing food in a slower way than the modern approach with GMOs and monocrops.


Then I read Slow Church, an idea I fell deeply in love with and have labored to employ in the church I pastor (Godspeed). Apply all the same fundamentals of the slow food movement to a church and you get the idea.


Now I am reading Slow Productivity by Cal Newport, and again, I’m in love with the concept. Unhurried. Unstressed. Unpushed. Newport, who wrote the excellent Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You, makes a strong case that knowledge workers are plagued by pseudo productivity.


While a factory or a McDonalds may be able to measure success by output, the quality of knowledge work, such as writing, requires a completely different approach. If we’re manufacturing widgets and hamburgers, they are all the same according to spec, but if we are creating original work, such as books, articles, or ad copy, we must have space for inspiration.


How I’m Applying Slow Productivity to My Writing


  1. I have to be aware of my deadlines. There is nothing wrong with deadlines. They actually help get into creative flow, because they give a certain kind of goal with a certain kind of urgency. This is one of the ingredients of getting into that state where you can produce your best work.


  1. I have to keep my schedule free enough for downtime and gear switching. I must put in hours, but not too many. If I know I’m only scheduling a certain amount of time for each project, it triggers focus. For the rest of the day, there is conscious and unconscious ruminating that goes on as I go about other tasks. Then I sleep and allow whatever processing magic happens then to take place before doing it again the next day. In a much shorter time than you would expect, books get done.


  1. Finally, I’m learning to avoid filling my plate so completely that I have no time for thinking. I confess that I like to stay busy. I like pseudo productivity because I’m afraid of failure, or more accurately, I’m afraid of feeling like one. I don’t want to feel lazy, so if I’m not working, I’ll tend to find more to do, and this negatively impacts my writing. It’s helpful to have a few other things to do, but too many is counterproductive.


I’m going to keep you updated in the coming weeks on how this is going, because I think it’s going to be a challenge. But I’m willing to take on that challenge, because I believe with all my heart I’ll do better work if I go slower. (If you are reading this and happen to be one of my clients, don’t worry. I don’t intend to slow the pace of your project; I’ll just do it better.)




When it comes to communicating truth, I heard something smart from a marketing professor, Ben Guttmann, last week. To paraphrase, he pointed out that we are wired to want to hear information in the most simplistic way possible, but to give information in the most complicated way possible.


Think about what that means for the relationship between writers and readers. Next time you are tempted to explain or write something in an overly complicated way, stop and think about how you’d like to hear it.

Biblical Writing Inspiration


For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4 ESV).


What I’m Reading


My friend, Dr. Robert (Bob) Smart wrote a book about calling. It’s called Calling to Christ: Where’s My Place? 


Check it out if you’re interested in the theology of work and discerning what you were made to do and create in the world.


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