Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Small town writing versus big city writing


A few weeks ago, my family and I went on our annual summer vacation, and compared the pace in the city we visited, the change of pace was huge. Here are a couple facts in order to set this story up properly:

* The population of our town: Approximately 55,000. Technically, our town covers 16.6 square miles and is surrounded by a perimeter of orchards, dairies, and fields of cotton, alfalfa, and things of that nature. 

* The population of Long Beach? Approximately 466,000, claiming 51.44 square miles. (Yep. Talk about a major difference.) Cars and houses and buildings are everywhere and even when you're just walking on the sidewalk, it feels as though you're constantly in somebody's way.

As you can imagine, the town of Long Beach is very busy. And loud. And... congested. (I'm sure this suits city-folk just fine, but it took us some getting used to.) My point is, the pace of our hometown and the pace of Long Beach were different in practically every way.

But back to our vacation. We were blessed to rent a home facing one of the main streets in town (cross the crosswalk, walk a few yards, and you'd be met by stairs leading right down to the beach at the end of the cul-de-sac), and the first time we checked it out, my husband was with us. A few days later, however, when two of my daughters and I decided to trek over there on our own, we had an... interesting experience. 

Minutes passed as the three of us stood at the corner, waiting for cars to stop so we could cross the crosswalk. It wasn't an intersection, so nothing specifically gave us the right to walk (except for the fact that we were pedestrians, and where we live it is always stressed that pedestrians have the right of way--I'm pretty sure this is a California law, is it not?). Though the sign posted nearby said 30 MPH, no one heeded that "suggestion". At times, the momentum of vehicles flying by actually forced you to take a few steps back. Finally, though, a nice lady driving a truck decided to wait for us. We smiled, appreciative of her unusual Long Beach generosity, and looked to our right, expecting oncoming traffic to see the stopped truck and us getting ready to cross and well, stop

Vrooooom! Whoooosh! Cars kept charging past. It was broad daylight. They had to see us three standing there, yes?

I looked at the truck. Someone pulled up behind her and started honking. Great, I thought. Now she was being blamed for the fact that everyone else was mean and inconsiderate.

Finally, after about a minute of this, we heard a man's voice behind us yell (I'm guessing from the window of a building, maybe?) "You just have to go! They won't stop unless you start walking!"

Uh, what? Charge into that traffic? 

I laughed, shook my head, and told the girls, "I'm not risking my life by walking out into this! That guy is crazy!"

To make a long story short, approximately thirty seconds later someone stopped and we (hurriedly) crossed. The experience was definitely one of those "city" experiences, and here's where I (finally) bring writing into the story:

Sometimes, the writerly world is a lot like Long Beach. Publication news, best-selling news, agent news, do-this-or-don't-do-that advice advice advice from everyone everywhere and so many other things are constantly being shared, tweeted, and blogged about, and it gets to a point where the information is a lot like that street we were trying to cross--loud, in a rush, and overwhelming. 

With so many things continually being broadcast, it's easy to feel as though you're going to be left behind. Like you'd better get your rear in gear and get that stuff out there, or you're going to miss your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. (Hurry up! Everyone's going to pass you by! Who cares if it's ready yet--send that story out, publish it already, before it's too late and you're a nobody! What are you waiting for? You'd better do it like this best-seller did! Go go go! Any of those thoughts sound familiar?) 

But... is heading out into crazy-fast oncoming traffic the smart thing to do? Not really. Will getting out there a few seconds (or minutes even) make a difference in the overall grand scheme of things? Most likely no.

In the same way, I've found that rushing the writing process--throwing it out into the noise of the industry when a piece of work is not remotely ready--also isn't beneficial. Choosing to take the small town writing mentality versus the city one does, in the long run, benefit the writerly method in its entirety. I would much rather be a country writer where I can sit back and enjoy the sunrise, the smell of the cows (well, sometimes), even the slow drivers. To me, it's not worth diving into oncoming traffic. Give me that extra time to push out a quality product and not only will I enjoy every step of the way, I'll learn more as well.

It's like coffee. Do you dump the beans into the coffee pot, add the water, and expect it to be ground, percolated, in your cup, and ready to drink? Of course not. Likewise, allowing our writing to go through each step of the process is a much more memorable (and educational) experience in the long run. Take time to grow your writerly coffee beans. Enjoy the aroma as it's ground and mixed with the hot water. Then when you sit down, cup in hand, you can relax and savor the taste of a perfectly prepared cup, knowing it's the best brew out there, and there isn't a single thing you would have done differently.

1 comment:

  1. My first reaction to this post was, "People vacation in Long Beach? That place we used to visit my great-aunt near the stenchy dog food plant?" But then I got past that to appreciate your writing metaphor.

    It's definitely possible to get caught up in that "city pace" for writing, and to envy those people in the diamond lane, where it looks so much easier. But when you read interviews with "overnight successes", they always have a reality check of the years of hard work and obscurity that came before.

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