Last week Will and I went to our local author interview series to hear John Irving speak about his new novel Avenue of Mysteries (which I’ve had in my possession for months and can’t bring myself to open).
While Irving was there to promote his new book, he spoke extensively about his older works, and the creative process that brought them to life. I found this glimpse into his methods fascinating, as a reader as well as a writer.
His methods are unquestionably unusual, even for an eccentric author. Irving is famous for beginning his writing process with the last line: he doesn’t start a novel until he knows exactly how it’s going to end. (How can you begin a journey—even on the page—until you know where the road is going to take you?)
What I didn’t know about Irving’s process was that he is a very slow writer, deliberately so. He says he often sits with the idea for a novel for years—four, nine, even as many as fifteen—before he begins it. (I was relieved to hear him say this. I recently read Big Magic, where Liz Gilbert says creative ideas are likely to abandon an author if they sit unused too long—those ideas will go find someone else to bring them to life.)
Irving has been writing novels since the 1960s: Avenue of Mysteries his fifteenth. He’s improved his technique greatly over the years. Yet as Irving has improved as an author, he hasn’t sped up his process; quite the contrary. He says, “If I’ve learned anything, it’s to write slower than I usually go. And I go really slow.”
I’m a terribly slow writer myself, and it was encouraging to hear him say that good things take time.
If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing slowly.
Irving went on to say that if you have any hope of being a successful writer, you have to love the process itself. No one else could have the patience to constantly re-read, re-work, revise, and rewrite a good novel requires. (He said Avenue of Mysteries required TWELVE rewrites. Holy smokes!)
This morning I’m thinking that Irving’s words aren’t limited to writers.
Good things take time. And if you love the process, that’s okay.
Do you believe good things take time? What good things (or hoped-for good things) have you done slowly, or are doing slowly right now?