Festina Lente

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By Kay DiBianca

I read a cute little mystery recently entitled “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore.” The book mentioned a term I had never encountered before: “Festina Lente.” This Latin term means “make haste slowly.”

The Renaissance printer Aldus Manutius adopted the phrase and its symbol of a dolphin wrapped around an anchor for his publishing business. This symbol has been used by other organizations, including Doubleday Books.

But what does “make haste slowly” mean? It sounds like a contradiction in terms. An oxymoron. But when I researched the origin of the phrase, I came to understand it. Basically, it refers to a proper balance of speed and diligence in one’s chosen field. Too fast and you risk delivering a sloppy product. Too slow and you miss opportunity. Finding the right pace is the key to success.

So how does Festina Lente apply to us as writers? We know how easy it is to self-publish a book these days. A writer can throw some words into a document, upload them, and – voila — he/she becomes a published author. But that doesn’t say anything about the quality of the story or the writing. On the other hand, it’s possible to overanalyze every word and phrase and never publish anything at all. How do we find the Festina Lente solution? Here’s the way I look at it:

The “festina” part of writing for me is the first draft. When I get the idea for a story, I feel a sense of urgency to move that story onto the page before the concept slips away. At this point, I don’t worry a lot about the final structure of the novel, but I let my imagination take me down story trails that may or may not make it into the final version. I want to capture the excitement of the moment.

But as I leap ahead, I often have to slow myself to “lente” to make sure I haven’t driven my literary car into the ditch. There are several ways to accomplish this:

Study. I like to revisit various craft of writing sources to review story structure, point-of-view, and character development to be sure I’m producing a quality product. Becoming reacquainted with principles of good fiction writing gives me the confidence to move forward.

Revision. There’s an old saying that great writing is rewriting. After the story is down on paper (real or virtual), it’s time to review it and revise, revise, revise. I look for ways to freshen up the dialogue, tighten the plot, and get rid of those weasel words. I may move sections of the manuscript around and even delete chapters as I home in on the finished product.

Professional assistance. A good developmental editor will refine a raw story into a reader-worthy product, and a line editor will make it grammatically correct. I work with a wonderful freelance editor, and I send the first revised copy of the manuscript to her. After many emails and several more drafts, we settle on a story that we think will excite readers.

Feedback. Finally, critique partners and beta readers who are willing to point out weaknesses are pure gold for an author. I often make late changes to my work based on feedback from thoughtful beta readers.

Perhaps this English translation of a short poem by the French poet Boileau sums it up:

“Slowly make haste, and without losing courage;
Twenty times redo your work;
Polish and re-polish endlessly,
And sometimes add, but often take away.”

Festina Lente!

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Kay DiBianca is a former software developer and IT manager She is retired and lives in Memphis, Tennessee with her husband, Frank. Kay’s cozy mystery, The Watch on the Fencepost, is available on most online retailers. Her second novel, Dead Man’s Watch, will be released soon. Visit Kay at https://kaydibianca.com



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