Slowing Down

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.



Cover Image(s)

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.

Front Cover

Back Cover

Proofing the Typeset Proof

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.


Title Page


Summer-Writing Recap

As the fall semester begins this week at my university, I’m pondering my writing over the past 3 1/2 months. In my last post, I noted how difficult July was (in terms of doing any sustained writing). I’ve learned that teaching 2 summer classes will complicate a writing life. (Big surprise!)

In those 7 weeks between end of spring semester and the start of my summer classes, I did make some substantial progress on two projects.

“The Essay”

I signed a freelance contract to write a 1,500-word essay on a passage from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest. The essay will be included in an anthology that commemorates the 100th anniversary of Chambers’ death.

This essay was arguably one of the most difficult pieces I’ve ever worked on. Over May and June, I completed at least 5 drafts, most of them at my local Panera. I consumed many cups of coffee during the process.

Part of the reason that it was so difficult was that I’ve never written anything quite like this: part theological reflection, part personal narrative, and all aimed towards a broad audience.

Don’t misunderstand me: I like to be challenged as a writer. I enjoy taking on a writing project that stretches me. It was refreshing to revisit Chambers’ book and its impact upon me. However, it was also a relief to send the essay off to an editor.

I do count it as a type of “warm-up” piece towards a future project. (See below.)

“The Poems”

I received a summer research grant from  my university to work on a poetry manuscript, Your 21st-Century Prayer Life. Most days from early May through the end of June I wrestled with a different poem each day.

I would ponder a single word in a single line of a poem, change the word, ponder more, and then change the word back. Other mornings or afternoons, I would ponder a line break, play with different possibilities, and then change the line break back. Sometimes, my approach would involve the radical actions of cutting one line (or more), cutting one stanza (or more).

By mid-June, I had revised over 2/3 of the poems. I dug through the remaining poems, and weeded out another half dozen to arrive at 40, a good biblical number. By the end of June, the time had come for the organizing portion.

I spent a couple of hours one afternoon, a big glass of iced coffee within reach, and sorted through the poems, looking for connections among them. Single sheets of paper were scattered around my home office. I began gathering them in small bunches. I was trying to create a meaningful sequence, and I organized the manuscript around the church calendar and certain repeating subjects.

Once I had created that order and copied the drafts into one document, I sent it to an editor. Back in April I’d had a conversation with this editor while attending a faith-based writing conference. I had told him about my manuscript, what my plans were, and asked him if he’d be interested in seeing the project at some later date. He had said, yes.

He and I are now working on the manuscript. He has suggested I attempt certain types of revisions to the poems, and I understand where he’s coming from with those suggestions. I’m excited about the future of this project, seeing that some of these poems go back 9 years.


“What’s next?”

I’ll be working on these poems for several months.

I’ll draft and/or revise a short story (or two).

I’ll be writing more material for a book-length memoir.

That’s enough to keep me occupied, I think.

What I’m Working On–5.9.16

Grades are done for spring semester, and graduation has passed. I start teaching two summer classes in seven weeks, and once those commence there will be time for little else. In this interim I’ll be preparing for those classes, as well as my fall courses.

But from now until the end of June I’ll be focusing on two major writing projects:

1) Writing an essay for an anthology.

1917 marks the 100-year anniversary of the death of Oswald Chambers, and through a contact in a Facebook group, I learned of an upcoming anthology of essayists writing about a specific passage from his classic work, My Utmost for His Highest. Chambers’s book was foundational to my spiritual growth, and my copy has sentences underlined in almost every entry. I queried the editor and received a spot in the forthcoming book.

The next challenge was finding a passage upon which to write my essay. Over several evenings, I reread the book, starring many passages that might serve as an effective springboard for extended reflection. Finally, I found the passage that fit perfectly with some of the topics I’ve been exploring in my posts over at

Although the length of the essay (1,500 words) is manageable, I’ve never done something quite like this before. There’s a nervous excitement about this project. We’ll see what happens.

2) Revising and organizing a poetry manuscript.

Just as in 2014, I received a summer research grant from my university to work on a book-length project. Unlike last time when my focus was a short-story collection, this summer’s project involves a manuscript of forty-plus poems, tentatively titled, Your 21st-Century Prayer Life.

I wrote the majority of these poems during Lent 2014 when I decided to draft a poem a day, narrowing my subject matter to prayer and the church. Those poems, along with less than a dozen others, constitute

Each day I’ll be working on a poem or two and also attempting a sequencing of the poems. I have some initial ideas about how the collection might be organized, but I have no dominate ideas. As a result, I’ll be passing on the poems to a writer friend for his suggestions on organizing and further revising them.


Beyond these two major projects, I’ll be blogging in this space each Monday, and blogging over at each Friday. I relish in the challenge of writing something each week, feeling as though I’m some kind of newspaper columnist. The weekly writings help me stay grounded and well-practiced.

I’m grateful for this time of year that affords me the space to pursue these projects. Toward the end of May, I will be gone for six days, spending part of the time with a writing friend and her family and attending a writing retreat where I hope to work on these two projects even more diligently.

It’s going to be a good summer.