She warily walked to the front of the room, a few strands of pale auburn hair defiantly clung to a corner of her mouth. Beads of desperation speckled her forehead and pooled in places that made her only white blouse stick with shame.
“Hello. My name is Colleen and I am….a slow writer.”
Alright, so who here is a slow writer? Come on now, raise your hand. Let’s make those solidarity fists, too. That means you — goatee guy in the not-so-white, whitey-tighties. And you — breast pumping while typing Super Mom. Raise them high!
Congratulations. Now, look around; there’s a lot of us here. I know this because I Googled “slow writer” to find out if those words were used to name any other blog or website. They were not. Score! New blog name…check. What I did find, though, was at least a dozen hits on the subject.
You mean it’s not just me?
For reasons I’ll tap into shortly, the speed of my writing has silently slid into a slow crawl. No, that’s too generous. It’s more like a turtle hitched to a one-legged snail. S-L-O-W. Embarrassingly, so.
I did what I love and I dove into the research. There is a wealth of advice, tips and tricks on slow writing—some of which I’m willing to try—that fell into two broad camps: Embrace It or Improve It.
With that in mind, I thought it important to first ask myself a few questions. Is writing slowly really a problem? And what exactly does it mean to be a slow writer? Slow compared to what? Does speed = quality? Intelligence? Creativity?
The following is my account of “slowness” and why it may or may not be a problem for me. Later on, I’ll tackle those questions.
After my teaching career reluctantly ended, I needed to find some source of income while working from home. No distractions. At my own pace. I had long been an entrepreneur, of sorts. It began when I was a stay-at-home Mom before my kids started school. Living on one salary was, ahem, challenging, but I did not want my babies under another’s control. Husband agreed. I got busy.
Motherhood and necessity unleashed my creative side; I like to believe it’s one of the few positive attributes from my own mother. The take-no-prisoners work ethic is from Dad.
I melted, molded and sold holiday chocolates at a local diner; I took Wilton cake decorating classes at a Montgomery Wards and sold my own cakes; tried my hand at personal catering (a story in itself); Avon, Tupperware, Friendly Home Parties (anyone remember those?). You get the gist.
MS may have stolen my teaching career, but I was far from a slacker. I knew things weren’t “quite right” with me, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. And defeat was not an option. It never was. I have stubbornly learned over the years, though, that defeat and course correction are two sides of the same coin.
I needed to be my own boss. Small scale franchise opportunities looked promising and I quickly found Candy Bouquet. Ever heard of it? Probably not, unless you’ve lived in select southern states. I’m a Yankee, by the way.
Oh, the writing on the wall was itching to be writ. In more ways than one.
I sunk a few thousand dollars into start-up costs and hopped on a plane down to headquarters for a week-long training in Little Rock. I was giddy with excitement. Yes, actually giddy. Candy Bouquet allowed you to open a brick-and-mortar store—or—with a website, you could operate it from your home. Pay dirt! All I had to do was learn the business model and the “secret recipe” on how to put these bouquets together. Creative stuff? Piece of cake.
A quick tutorial is needed to understand what I was up against. Modeled after a floral bouquet, candied bouquets use wires as stems and candies as petals. Then lots and lots of cellos (colorful solid and printed squares of cellophane) and lots and lots of florist tape to bring it all together. The easiest part for me was cutting the styrofoam with a hot wire cutter to fit into the vases. Much like green florist foam, the hard wire “stems” are kept in place when stuck into the styrofoam. This was not an earth-friendly enterprise! But, I was thousands in the hole and not a quitter.
Every morning at nine o’clock, myself and 24 other franchisees, sat at long tables arranged in a square, centered in the large training room we dubbed the candy factory. A few feet behind us, along the walls, was supply central; everything needed to make the bouquets and more. The near-empty square floor space in front of us was for Trainer, who would demonstrate the lessons and walk around to help.
There is a copious amount of wrapping in Candy Bouquet. The wire first gets “primed” with the tape wrapped around it to about half way down. Then the candies are attached – either three hard or two chocolate – by wrapping one of their “tails” to the wire. Then the cellos! Depending on the design, every wire would require two to four each, with a poke of the stem through the center of the cello, pinch the center and, you guessed it, wrap it to the wire.
Not brain surgery. But it was creative and fun and I was looking forward to a new venture, feeling mighty fine about supporting myself after the loss of my career. In my home. No distractions. At my own pace.
We learned the basic technique in one day, took supplies back to our hotel rooms to practice some more, ready to tackle our first full bouquets the following morning. This, our first design, called for twenty-four stems (about the average), assorted fake greens and flowers, a really big hand-made bow, and other finishing touches.
We started to wrap. The people sitting closest to one another were sharing personal stories. The Canadian trio (mother, friend, adult daughter); two husband and wife teams; the sisters of Asian descent; most of us from all over the country. Nice people. Good people. One became a close friend.
I began to notice that everyone was about two to three stems ahead of me. I thought I better step up the pace, so I stopped chatting, put my head down and really went to work.
Chocolate, candy, cello, cello, again and again. I was picking up speed. I was in the zone, oblivious to the noise around me, their voices became muffled. I only picked up my head when I heard the chairs being scraped against the painted cement floor. Whew! Time for a lunch break already?
Now, I’ve had my moments with MS when MY reality wasn’t THE reality. A trip to the ER fearing a heart-attack, only to learn that the boa constricting squeeze in my chest was the ill-named “MS hug”. That non life-threatening but scare-the-shit-out-of-you thing the ER docs never heard of, and the neurologist forgot to mention. Or, the time sitting at a table, teaching a class, then suddenly grabbing the edge for support because you could of sworn on a stack of Bibles that someone was pulling over your chair from behind.
After a few years of this, you become more expectant of the unexpected. Control becomes a fleeting luxury and life moves forward with a new playbook.
But, this time, amidst a fun-loving candy factory filled with promise and dignity, I was thrown for a loop. In half a morning, I had wrapped one dozen stems. Everyone else? Their entire bouquets were nearly complete. Wrapped stems, silk flowers and artificial greens were standing in their vases. Only the bouquet extras and big bow were left. Those were the afternoon’s lessons.
What the hell!
How did this happen? How could it feel like I was going so fast, yet I clearly was not? Trainer tried to assure me that I would get faster with time. I wanted to scream: But I’ve done cakes, and my own chocolates, and my own catering, and sewing, and knitting, and ceramics…and I wasn’t a retard! Political incorrect thought, I know, but I was stunned, deflated.
Turns out, Trainer was wrong. As the week went on, I did not get any faster. But, remember, I’m not a quitter. I chalked it up to another MS episode — it will resolve itself in a few months, maybe less if I take steroids. I came home, stocked my “candy room”, spent thousands more on additional territory (to prevent other Candy Bouquets from swooping in on my throng of customers); orders trickled in from the website, which worked in my favor because I could only make one bouquet a day. I opened a kiosk in the mall and hired employees to man it because I could not sit there for twelve hours, every day; then pulled more money out of my savings to pay them.
And, I never got any faster.
In a little over a year, I closed up shop. Not to defeat, because I’m not a quitter—oh, no—but the till was empty and I simply could not accept THE reality.
So, why was I so damn slow? There is nothing wrong with my hands. No arthritis. No trembling. They work fine, mechanically. With multiple sclerosis, the messages sent from the central nervous system are often slowed or non-existent. In this case, from my brain to my hands. Years later, with testing, I would learn it’s an MS related short-term memory glitch. And just for shits and giggles, it played with my mind, taunting me with altered reality.
So now what?