Slow Down by Brenda Windberg


To round out the Guest Blogger Week's Best Writing Advice, I'm overjoyed to introduce Brenda Windberg to the Muses. She's another one of the FREE EXPRESSIONS editorial / literary geniuses and I can't wait to share this little nugget of wisdom with you. So without further delay...on to Brenda!


When I think back on the best writing advice I ever received, I have to blush and admit that particular bit of wisdom must be filed into a subcategory as well, something I like to call ‘smart things I should have listened to but didn’t.’
Before I trot out my shoulds, let’s talk about the advice itself, which was brilliant from the very first moment it hit my ear, even if I wasn’t experienced enough to know it yet. It came to me via my agent, or the man who would ultimately be my agent, shortly after I met him at a writing workshop, and immediately after he made my head explode by asking me to send him my novel when I finished it.
To set the stage, at that point in my career, I was about as new as a newbie can get, fresh out of suburban Wisconsin and determined to make the most of every single minute in the ‘literary big city.’ So, when the agent’s next words were, “Don’t rush. I’ll wait for your best work,” I can’t actually promise I heard him. I mean, I HEARD him speak, and I fully understood what the words meant, but the waves of adrenaline filling my veins with celebratory bubbles might have been a wee bit distracting when it came to the actual storage and application of said wisdom.
So, long story short, I TOTALLY and COMPLETELY rushed. I made the classic clich├ęd mistake, speeding through the writing process so the agent wouldn’t ‘forget about me’ and finishing a draft in just under three months. Of course, the end result was amateurish and awful—a novice in a hurry…oy. Just oy.
Fortunately, however, this agent also had patience and a very good heart. Along with his kind rejection, he generously and sensitively offered feedback on my little monster, feedback I diligently applied to the rewrite—which I finished about nine months later. Though still not the best version of my story, this draft showed him I could slow down and thoughtfully apply myself, abilities I should have displayed the first time around. And, finally, the next draft convinced him I was client material. Again, thank goodness for the man’s patience.
Now I know my story ends with a happy ending, but I cannot stress enough how ridiculously lucky I was—like, seriously, Powerball lucky. Honestly, I’ve been an independent editor for more than a decade now, and the experience I’ve just shared is simply not the norm. With frustrating regularity, clients find themselves on the wrong side of opportunity because they rush, because they give in to the panic, to the frantic voice screaming that some other author will rush in and steal their moment, their idea, their place in literary history. And as a result, they make the process longer and more stressful. Instead of climbing steadily toward success, they careen through peaks and valleys, sentenced to travel the back roads instead of the highway, at least until they relax a bit.
In my case, now on the far side of two additional novels, I’ve discovered even more applications for this amazing piece of advice. By far, the best of those was learning that, when I slow down and immerse myself in the world of my own story, in addition to writing smarter and stronger, I also open up to the story possibilities, to all the things that make my work singular and spellbinding and potentially spectacular. Truly, there is no better gift.
So…take a deep breath, and then another. Listen as I pass along this crucial piece of advice: Don’t rush. Do your best. Your story waits for you and you alone.


***
BRENDA WINDBERG has been on the staff of Free Expressions since 2002. In addition to her work as staff editor and speaker at the Breakout Novel Intensive Workshops and at the Writers Retreat Workshops, Brenda has worked in publishing for more than a dozen years—both as editor and as an accomplished freelance writer, whose articles have won numerous awards. Her work has been featured in such publications as PARENT GUIDE, HARTFORD TIMES PRESS, FLORIDA HEALTHCARE NEWS and many others. Her fiction is represented by Matt Bialer of The Sanford Greenburger AgencyBrenda can be contacted at brenda@free-expressions.com.

10 comments

Donna,

As I read this I pictured your calming voice before our morning writing exercise at YBB, inviting us to breathe deeply and center in. This is such great advice and especially applicable after we all just raced out of there with our bags and brains bursting with energetic ideas. Thanks, MUSES, for tapping in to Brenda's wisdom!

Wonderful advice, Brenda!

I see clients and students trip themselves up by rushing, by applying artificial pressure to a situation that really doesn't require it.

It's always a good idea to slow down, focus on the work, and trust that when you've done the best you can, the rewards will wait. And we've seen that borne out time and time again.

Great post!

Lorin

Terrific and absolutely right, Brenda! Any agent or editor will wait as long as it takes to receive the best book someone can write. As I tell clients all the time: This is not a race; this is a marathon. It takes training, patience, craft, and planning to deliver your best work. Thank you!

Deborah Holt Williams November 16, 2012 at 9:09 AM

This is so sensible, as opposed to the class I went to last week on how to self-publish a book in 7 days and put it up for sale on Amazon. It was so awful, so completely against what I believe about the slow and careful crafting of a story. You and I are on the same page!

Thanks for sharing your advice and personal experience :) We need to be reminded to slow down in almost every aspect of our lives these days! When it comes to writing, story building and immersing yourself in your story's world, this couldn't be more important.

Great advice. I feel that's what I've been doing with my middle-grade novel. I shall slow down and immerse myself in the story. Thanks.

I needed this post. Every single word of it. Thank you!

Brenda,
Needed to hear this! Especially since I've returned from YBB, hurricanes, storms, semi-finals and all things, 'tsturis' have hit the fan! I too have heard this often - well every time I flip out like today - from Emma Dryden, yet I still have to take deep breaths. Thank goodness for her reminding me, and your wonderful article. Breathing, breathing....

Thanks for sharing, Brenda; exactly the reminder I needed at this moment in my WIP's life:-D

Thanks for reinforcing the point. I am taking a class with authors Les Edgerton (Hooked) and Jenny Milchman (Cover of Snow). They had recently given this advice to one of my classmates. She transformed her work when applying the thought of slowing down. We said bring out the bubbly. It was that good.

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