I've always been a slow writer, probably because I'm both a slow thinker and a maniac about rhythm and sentence construction. When I'm drafting I force myself to write without looking back, just to get words and half-formed thoughts on the page--but the rest of my writing process is a slow and laborious series of revisions. I try not to get too hung up on sentences until late in the game, since a beautiful sentence that does fuck-all for my argument will just get deleted in the end.
But since writing sentences is how I think, it's hard to tell the difference, sometimes, between what sounds good stylistically and what sounds right argumentatively. I don't have a thought, which I then put into words, which I then tinker around with a bit to clarify. I just start writing something that includes a few key concepts or half-baked ideas, and only through the process of rephrasing, recombining, and substituting that word for this do I come to any real knowledge of what I might mean.
I've more or less made my peace with my process, and feel confident that it will eventually produce the results I want, but it's hard when I'm on a deadline. Last night I sat down to revise the first two or three pages of the essay I'm currently working on--in other words, THE MOST IMPORTANT PAGES--and was seized by the sense that things just weren't right. Not terrible; I'd already worked over those pages several times, and they read clearly enough, but they felt wrong on the sentence-to-sentence level. It wasn't adding up, somehow.
I began my usual process of interlineating changes by hand, but it got too messy for that, and I could feel myself beginning to panic. It's dispiriting to be stuck on the same page for hours. So I took out my legal pad and started rewriting each paragraph in longhand, incorporating changes as I went, but also copying out in full the phrases or sentences that I was letting stand. I have nice handwriting when I try, and I enjoy writing in longhand, and slowing down allowed me to think about each word, clause, and idea as it passed through my pen. It was like being in an extraordinarily focused meditative state.
And I remembered that I used to do this with poems I loved in high school and college--I'd copy them out repeatedly by hand, registering each word and image and slowly memorizing them, although memorization usually wasn't the point.
Is this my final round of revisions? No. But it was a really good one. Maybe next time I'll re-invent the alphabet.