“Slow Down Where It Hurts”

This gem of writing advice nagged at me for days after I heard it, and though I couldn’t figure out why, I knew it wasn’t about writing.

Backing up a moment, it was also about the writing. The advice slow down where it hurts (from Steve Almond) is about resisting that urge to make the author’s character’s journey as smooth as possible by speeding past the painful parts. Often, their discomfort requires more page time than a writer would like in order to deliver the best possible reader experience.

Wouldn’t you know, I’ve been struggling with Book 2 lately, despite having it thoroughly outlined and a good chunk already drafted. Could the reason be that in order to fully develop one of my characters, I’ll need to do a deep research dive into post-partum anxiety — likely affording this writer a little too much hindsight in the process?

No question, trying to speed through the hard parts is definitely slowing things down…

Cue a rabbit hole I went down a few months ago about midlife transitions (somewhat ahead of schedule, but welcome into the head of that kid who does the homework before it’s been assigned). I came across the idea that middle age is when any pain and trauma we didn’t effectively process (or possibly even notice) earlier in life demands — by whatever means necessary — that we stop and listen.

The theory goes that sudden “raging hormones,” “mid-life crises” and acute physical ailments in our forties and fifties may be about increased activation in the memory centers of the brain as it quite literally rewires itself, preparing for the natural shift from our outward-focused, pedal-to-the-metal twenties and thirties to a phase where we’re less needed by others and focus turns inwards.

Not a lot of hard science behind this, but the common thread in every personal account is hard to dismiss: when given enough air, the wounds resolved. When people — especially the women — finally stopped barrelling past their sore spots, in some cases by doing little more than simply taking time to acknowledge them, much of the soreness faded.

Indeed, it would seem to me that women in the second half of their lives are a force unlike any other on the planet (just try keeping down a post-menopausal woman whose demons have been exhausted and tucked into bed…).

And certainly, I intend to be one of those women.

So here I am, trying to befriend the idea that slow down where it hurts is my next game plan in both writing and life, when I realize I’ve been vehemently unreceptive to versions of this same advice for years — all of it given by, interestingly enough, people over sixty:

When you can’t see a solution, just sit with the problem.

If both hands are tied, put it to prayer.

Take a breath and feel your feelings.

Be kind to yourself.

I guess I’ve always believed slowing down in the painful places only increases one’s chances of getting stuck there.

So now, I’m curious what others think of all this? Does spending more time inside your discomfort zone help you to leave it behind for good, or do you end up stalling out there?

For me, it looks like time will tell…

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