Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be a guest in classes taught by a colleague. As a part of her Religion & Literature courses, she assigned my poetry collection, Your Twenty-First Century Prayer Life. I visited both of her sections twice, with the one class session focused on the first half of the book and the other session focused on the second half.
While my “day job” is being a professor, and while I write in pockets of time throughout my week, I am also an editor. I edit the literary journal The Windhover, having just released the eighth issue. Beyond editing the journal, I have worked as a line editor on book projects, the most recent of which is the newly released Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by my friend (and my pastor), Austin Fischer.
To observe that contemporary American society is fast-paced and frenetic is stating the obvious, but in recent months I’ve contemplated the ways I feel rushed and the ways in which I might push back against that pressure.
Two weeks ago, a writer I follow on Twitter quoted this statement from Junot Diaz: “The whole culture is telling you hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.” I thought, that’s exactly right.
In a post from early January, I shared how I adjusted my writing process so that I am not working simultaneously on multiple pieces at different stages of development. Rather, I work on a first draft or a revision of piece for however long it takes to complete the next draft. Then I move to the next piece.
I’m happy to report that I’ve maintained the focus, and I find myself less hurried and less harried. When I do write, I find that I delight it in the act, a return to that love and excitement I felt when I was a younger, less-experienced writer.
I’ve transferred this idea of slowing down into a related area of my life. I used to pride myself on having between six to eight books I was reading: different genres, bouncing from one to the next. Reading poetry one night, followed by a short story, maybe part of a chapter from a historical book. I’d have a book of criticism going, too, maybe a memoir, and even a novel.
When I noticed was that my ability to immerse myself in the world of the text had weakened, so considering my writing-approach adjustment, I cut back on the books that I’m currently reading. I can say that my enjoyment of the books (and of reading in general) has only deepened.
I’m no longer trying to read a certain number of books in a year. When I was younger, I was trying to beat my record of books read from the prior year. Now, however, I’d rather read fewer books in a more focused way and in a way that involves a richer understanding of and appreciation for those books.
Beyond these two areas, I’m applying the principles of slowing down to my internet usage, my time on social media, my approach to teaching, my relationships, my spiritual life. I’m finding that those other elements are even more fulfilling when I don’t try to rush through activities, when I don’t hurry from one thing to the next.
Slow down. Be present. Pay attention. Be all there. Don’t rush. These are the words I tell myself.
I wrote the title poem of my forthcoming book in 2013, and that poem was published in 2014. Now I’m on the cusp of the book being released very soon. Part of my semester break involved reading and rereading the proof (as I noted in an earlier post). Last week, I received the front and back cover images. I couldn’t wait to open the attachments.
Since the publishing process began back in July when I set my manuscript and its accompanying materials to the publisher, I’ve wondered what the book cover would look like. In some ways, waiting for the cover was like waiting for a gift at Christmas. Several friends and acquaintances have published books with Wipf & Stock, and their books have had great covers.
Even though I released the cover images via my Twitter and Instagram feeds (both handles are “plainswriter”) and my Facebook author page, I wanted to post them here (in a larger size). First of all, I like the color scheme of the covers, as well as the way the book title is the focal point. It still seems bizarre and unreal to me that this book is at last making its way into the world.
I was struck as I read the words of writers whom I admire. I was humbled that they had taken time to read my book and to offer their words of affirmation. After all, by the time I had signed off on the final proof, I had little objectivity about my own work. During the process of working on this project (especially from its initial versions), I was uncertain about its future. Would it materialize into a book? And if so, when? And what would it look like? Now I know the answers to those questions.
Things are now moving along quickly with my forthcoming book, Your Twenty-First Century Prayer Life. Two weeks ago I received the “typeset proof.” It was simultaneously exciting and bizarre to see my name on the title page, on the copyright page. I shared those pages with some of classes, and as I told my Creative Writing students, “this could be you some day.” They brightened at the possibility.
The book is a time capsule, a record of my years spent working on the poems. All of my pieces of writing (published or unpublished) are time capsules. When I reread those capsules, I see myself at a different point in time, even if the work is fiction. The oldest poem in the book, “Calcutta to Canon Beach,” is an artifact from my first PhD workshop in October 2007.
These forty poems are a record of my attempts to bring together the spiritual with the pastoral, place-based elements typical of my poetry. I strove to mesh my two poetic impulses. These forty poems are also a record of my spiritual discipline from Lent 2014 when I drafted a poem a day. In fact, over half of the poems in the book were drafted in that time.
This week I’ll be reviewing the proof–checking for formatting, rereading the poems for pleasure’s sake. I’ll send back my finalized version well before the deadline of December 19, excited to see the next stages of the book development (especially the cover). And in the coming weeks and months leading up to the release, I’ll be sharing more about the book.