Writing Fast and Slow

I am patiently waiting for my husband to finish reading Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, so that I can have my turn. In the meantime, I guess I’ll make some oatmeal.

After enjoying the most smooth, richly textured hot breakfast cereal imaginable on our trips to London over the years, I finally decided to see if I could duplicate it at home. The answer was on the shelves of our nearest grocery store: McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal.

Steel-cut oats are coarsely chopped groats (hulled oats with some of the bran intact), whereas the rolled oats we are more familiar with are bran-free, flattened with heavy rollers, and often steamed or processed in some way to shorten cooking time.

Oatmeal made from rolled oats can be on the table or in a to-go cup in 5-10 minutes, even faster if you use the instant variety. Nothing is handier in a pinch on a cold, winter morning, especially for college students and busy parents of young children.

Oatmeal made from steel-cut oats, on the other hand, takes up to an hour from start to finish and requires four cups of water per one cup of oats. The result is the best oatmeal you will ever have. Trust me. If you want to enjoy it first thing in the morning, simply toss the ingredients together in a slow-cooker the night before.

Writing offers similar options. The quick-cooking, instant variety is useful for fast drafts, daily blog posts, or other on-the-go word snacks when there is little time to wait around.

But writing that is allowed to simmer for a while, that absorbs more of what surrounds it, and that is stirred now and again, tasted, re-seasoned, and then covered and allowed to cook a little longer while we go about our other business, will be all the richer and more satisfying for the waiting.

Do you have an example to share of writing that has been worth the wait?

7 thoughts on “Writing Fast and Slow

  1. Lisa,
    If you want Oatmeal cookies to die for, McCann’s is great. The steel cut oats hold their texture and make the cookies a special treat. I liked your comparison for writing as well.
    Sophi 😉

    • Oh, Sophi, I have got to try those cookies! Is there anything I should be aware of, or do I just make a 1:1 substitution with rolled oats?

  2. Selden Edwards’ historical novel “The Little Book.” He worked on it for 30-some years, improving on each draft, until he earned an agent and a book deal and “suddenly” had a bestselling novel.

    Love the oatmeal analogy!

    • Laura, thanks so much for the example of Selden Edwards. Perfect! Patience is something I have had a hard time learning, and in this world of instant publication (blog posts are a good example), my natural impulsive tendencies flare up more than ever. 🙂

      • You’re welcome! I recently read his novel for the second time and was amazed at how intricately everything connected. It’s so clear that he worked on it for years, because the level of craftsmanship is so high.

        It is so easy to be impulsive these days, isn’t it? Putting your work out there, at least on a blog, is as easy as clicking “publish.”

  3. Well, it’s an interesting question isn’t it? I find myself dwelling on this a lot, particularly in relation to making art. I have discovered with both art and writing that all too frequently, the instinctive, rapid, heartfelt execution/post has something more about it, something with resonates more with the audience, than slowly simmered stuff. Particularly with my painting, I fear the slow simmer becoming congealed stew. BUT (and it’s a big but) I’m increasingly convinced that the rapid execution or outpouring only happens because of allowing unconscious long term simmering to happen. All the hours of drawing, or collecting thoughts or the whole Morning Pages routine is setting a basis for successful spontaneity and rapid intuitive work. My simmering, I suppose, is hidden away but still an important and vital part of the process.

    • Gillian, I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes I just need to throw caution to the wind and write something quickly and from the heart, without allowing myself to overthink it. I need to remember that. Thank you.

      Thinking fast and slow… that’s what it’s all about, I guess.

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