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World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down

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Slowness can open doors to sustained creativity, claims poet and teacher Christian McEwen. Over the course of ten years training teachers to write their own poems in order to pass the craft along to students, McEwen realized that nothing comes easily when life is conducted at a high rate of speed. She draws not only on personal experience, but on readings ranging from literary anecdote and poetry to Buddhism, anthropology, current news, and social history, all supplemented by interviews with contemporary writers and artists. This is a real reader’s book, one that stands up as both sustained narrative and occasional inspiration.
McEwen espouses the pleasure to be found in slowing down, both for the ease and comfort of the thing itself (taking time to go for a walk, to write down one’s dreams, to read, to talk, to pray), and for its impact on creativity. There are chapters on walking, talking, drawing, dreaming, on “making space,” on pausing/praying, on telling stories. World Enough & Time is aimed at the educated general reader, could be used as a creative primer, and will be of interest to creative writing students and artists in every genre.

368 pages

First published January 1, 2011

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Christian McEwen

12 books5 followers

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5 stars
110 (47%)
4 stars
74 (32%)
3 stars
38 (16%)
2 stars
6 (2%)
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3 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 48 reviews
Profile Image for Stephany Wilkes.
Author 1 book32 followers
May 3, 2016
A life changing book, and one I could have used much sooner. Nearly one year ago, my husband and I made the harder-than-it-sounds choice to step off the treadmill, exit the rat race, and end a combined 40 years in tech work by quitting our Bay Area/Silicon Valley tech jobs -- at the peak of our careers. It sounds great in theory, and indeed it was: one year later, I feel genuine horror at the fact that we might *not* have chosen this path. But getting to this place was not easy.

There was no euphoria, aside from the days on which we had our last days at work. We knew *what* we wanted to do: slow down. Work less. Think more. Spend a lot more time outside, and almost none in front of a screen. But as basic as those things sound, they were easier said than done. We had no idea *how* to transition from anxious, overworked sorts with mobile tethers and meeting times in more than half the world's time zones to people who could *think* again, who could take the time to just notice things and not always feel compelled to "accomplish" something.

I expect to read this book at least two more times. It's an enjoyable read, full of examples and fables, but it's also a critical guide to getting from crazy to calm.
Profile Image for Philippe.
619 reviews507 followers
June 8, 2019
This was an enjoyable bedside read. A warmly and intelligently written breviary that makes a persuasive case for slowing down and taking our time to engage in mundane but potentially transformative activities: reading, playing, observing, journaling, reminiscing. The book is a necessary antidote to the contemporary regime of hyperactivity and hyperstimulation that is eroding our agency, creativity and humanity. One of the sections I highlighted is this account of the good life, given by Confucius's grandson Tsesse:

"He imagines someone whose life is neither celebrated nor obscure, neither indolent nor hectically active. This person reads, but not too much, is informed and capable, but neither a scholar nor a specialist. Each night, he sleeps long and well, and wakes up rested, blessed with a revivifying dream. Slowly, he makes his way towards his study, settling himself down before a bright window and a clean desk. At that moment, he finds himself inspired, free as all of us would like to be, to write good essays, good poems and good letters, free to paint good paintings, and to write good inscriptions on them. The world opens itself to him, in all its myriad beauties, and he responds with a full heart."
Profile Image for Kasey Jueds.
Author 4 books61 followers
October 30, 2013
It took me over a year to read this book... appropriately, because it is a book about slowing down, and a book to be savored. Full of quotes from a huge range of sources, and the bibliography/suggested reading list is enormous and compelling and made me want to read everything on it. And Christian McEwen's voice, the stories she tells and the thoughtful, non-preachy advice she imparts--all of these are inspiring, centering, nourishing. A book I'll return to, absolutely.

Here's one of the zillions of quotations tucked into World Enough & Time... one of my favorites:

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

Profile Image for Howard Mansfield.
Author 29 books34 followers
December 11, 2011
Christian McEwen has written a good-hearted, generous book. She never thunders at the reader, even when she is rightfully angry. Nor does she show off, but she does show the way to a quieter, more thoughtful life. The book really sparks when she brings in her Scottish upbringing and her travels in this country. This book is written by a pilgrim offering many maps for each reader to begin their own journey to a richer life.

3 reviews
September 2, 2012
This book offers far more depth and enjoyment than I had expected - in fact, reading it was a true joy - beautifully, thoughtfully written, not preachy or prescriptive, more like a conversation with an interesting friend. It doesn't repeat the same theme in endless variation, but offers the reader fresh insights and perspectives with every chapter. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Cameron Norman.
47 reviews20 followers
March 6, 2013
This book changed my view of life in profound ways. It tells us a lot of things we know, but repositions it in a manner that inspired me to deeply contemplate the manner in which I live with others, myself and the technologies that are aimed at making life easier (and sometimes do the very opposite). The book is part reflection, part treatise, part call to contemplative arms to slow down and re-imagine time. It's not preachy either. Using the author's experiences, case studies and drawing on poetry, literature and academic research, McEwen paints the picture of a changing world that is too often seen as not enough or too much and, like the title suggests, might be neither and both.

I cannot recommend this book enough for those seeking to engage in the hard work of asking big questions and preparing to re-assess one's priorities. This won't tell you what to do, but will give you a sense of what might be worth contemplating.
Profile Image for Holly.
Author 7 books12 followers
April 18, 2013
One of my deepest pleasures recently was the month in winter I spent with this book. Reading it slowly. Rereading portions. Sharing favorite passages with friends over dinner, and with students in my creative writing classes, and with my clients who—like the author—are beginning to recognize that there's something essential and humane and necessary about slowing down, taking time, doing creative work, and finding the means of incorporating all of these things into daily life. I can't recommend this book more enthusiastically—even to those who believe they have a balanced life that includes enough time and sufficient creative activity.

McEwan brings her gentle eye, compassionate attention, and history of reading to bear on the topic. It's well written, deft in its conclusions, and absolutely encouraging. I adored this book!
Profile Image for Claire O'Sullivan.
454 reviews8 followers
September 9, 2019
‘Only one hour of the normal day is more pleasurable than the hour spent in bed with a book before going to sleep and that is the hour spent in bed with a book after being called in the morning’ Rose Macauley

This was my holiday read book choice and I loved it . The art of slowing down, not fitting more in, simply doing the things I love slowly and mindfully - conversation, walking, looking, practising joy and happiness. Read in Kikudbright, Scotland an artists town. A perfect combination of book, place and time.
Profile Image for Barb.
251 reviews
April 9, 2022
This book is a life game-changer. Got this from the library (who thinks it is lost because I'm WAY overdue returning it) and I'm now awaiting my own copy (along with the Tortoise Diaries). Before I even finished it, I yearned for a week long retreat to assimilate a lot of the information and am getting these two books to support that retreat-dream.

First, I feel like McEwen took all my favorite books and distilled the wisdom into this book-long nugget, something I've always wanted to do myself (the distillation, not the book writing). Reading the references is like looking at my bookshelves -- from Juliet Schor to Barbara McClintock's biography to Mary Oliver.

Second, [OMG! my version of my own copy just arrived!! nearly a week early!], well, I was about to say that second, I have to document a bunch of notes from the library copy but now I can just do it in my own copy.

She talked about "hurry sickness" which is something I've been dealing with for a while. I've been trying to figure out what so radically changed between early adulthood when I didn't feel "hurry sick" and my last decade when I have been felled by it.. She ties it to our consumerist culture and less time in nature amongst other things. McEwen describes those activities which take time and center us: walking, talking, reading, drawing, praying, telling stories -- all which have us pause, notice, and enjoy.

And, I love some of her word observations: listen is an anagram of silent; buys is an anagram of busy.

In short, read this. Revel in it. And don't hurry through it.


On a 3-day retreat in Great Barrington, of my own making. This book is a focus, so I reread it today, taking copious notes. Putting it together with several other books this weekend. Learning and creating a path forward.
Profile Image for Andrea Stoeckel.
2,612 reviews105 followers
January 7, 2021
(n.b This book was my #firstbook2021)

"For fast acting relief from stress, try slowing down"~ Lily Tomlin

This is the opening quote of this book. I had been introduced to this author's work from her little book of daily wisdom:"The Tortoise Diaries", which contains quotes and snippets from this larger work, now in it's 7th printing. With wry humor, McEwen reflects her friends' response to the idea of a book on slowing down:hurry up with that book. Instead, she presents a book chock full of wisdom, examples, quotes and reflections that challenge a reader to savor each moment as it comes instead of leaning into a societal norm that says faster is better. With slowing down comes creativity, rumination and remembering how things of the past and our responses might teach us to be more present in the now.

This book, by its very presence is a joy. Bauhan Publishing has given it a lovely visage and a weight that goes beyond it's title. It will have pride of place in my home library. Highly Recommended 5/5

[disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher and voluntarily read and reviewed it]
Profile Image for Beverly.
443 reviews18 followers
October 23, 2012
I picked this up in anticipation of Christian McEwen's visit to my university campus. Sadly, I was unable to attend the events surrounding her visit. All month I've savored the book along with my breakfast; today I finished it, and I feel bereft--I will re-read it soon, I'm certain. Her voice is comforting as she urges the reader to slow down to enrich creativity. She uses excellent examples from literature, interviews, painters...all sorts of creative people to support her thesis. At the end of each chapter, she includes activities and meditations, which the reader can use to deepen understanding and practice slowing down. Having recently felt anxious about the pressures of my busy life, this book entered my world at a perfect time. McEwen, I suspect, would not be surprised by this!

I plan to use this as a spring board for new creative writing exercises for myself and my students. I urge everyone who longs for an opportunity to persuade themselves to slow down to read this. It is beautiful for its writing and content.
Profile Image for Sigrun Hodne.
355 reviews48 followers
June 21, 2015
This book is a compendium, an amalgam of thoughts and ideas collected from different cultural traditions and historical eras. Ideas from great thinkers: religious figures, writers and philosophers are combined in new ways to underscore the importance of slowing down if one if to enjoy the richness of life.

Being structured around quotes and ideas collected from great thinkers & writes, it is difficult to call McEwen’s work truly original, if you are acquainted with Buddhism and/or theories on creativity, you will recognize most of the ideas presented in this book.

But McEwen is a shrewd narrator; combining well-worn stories with personal comments and small exercises for the reader, she manages to make even old truths fresh & rejuvenating.

474 reviews
May 13, 2012
This was a wonderful book. The author explores the idea of slowing down,giving ourselves the time to enjoy the world around us. For example, how many times have you seen people out walking while plugged into some electronic device? How about taking a walk and allowing all of your senses to appreciate the experience? We spend entirely too much time in front of computers. The author says it's time to slow down. Let the quietness lead to inspiration.
Profile Image for Marina Sofia.
1,164 reviews246 followers
January 16, 2014
This is a book that I will never 'finish' reading, but just keep on re-reading. It's not that the ideas are startlingly new - they confirm things I had already half-known or guessed. It's just nicely put together, with plenty of lovely literary and artistic allusions and quotes. A real inspiration. One that I need badly, with my 'hurry up', ever-busy personality.
Profile Image for Cindy Richard.
316 reviews9 followers
October 6, 2020
Perfect for reminding writers that we need to slow down and observe the world to really make lasting contributions to the field. I underlined several passages in this book, and I return to it often for inspiration.
Profile Image for Liz Lazar.
37 reviews1 follower
May 2, 2015
There aren't enough stars to rate how much I enjoyed this book. I rarely buy books anymore (instead choosing to utilize the library) but this is a book that I will buy and probably reference over and over and over again. I'd call it our generations Walden.
18 reviews2 followers
July 12, 2013
A delicious read! Read it slowly, savor it. Enjoy.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
253 reviews8 followers
April 23, 2018
After reaching a point of creative burnout recently, I picked up this book and gave myself necessary time to slow down. The writing is beautiful and poetic, and written in such a way that naturally slows down the reader. I took my time to savor and contemplate the words, and enjoyed the inclusion of poetry to illustrate the concepts presented throughout the chapters. The principles suggested in the book are simple, but so easily forgotten in our fast-paced world. And they really do work.

The more I create, explore who I am, and stumble and succeed while I figure out my career, the more I'm realizing that I just like to go slow. I don't create well when I'm in a hurry or stretched too thin, or when my calendar is packed with back to back events, or when I sacrifice time with my loved ones (or time with myself) for things that just don't matter in the grand scheme of my life. Taking a time out every once in a while or adopting a slower pace of life isn't for everyone, but if you give it a try and it resonates....why deny yourself the simple luxury of slowing down to actually enjoy your life?

I look forward to returning to this book at various times throughout life. I think it's also worth mentioning that while the book includes creativity in the title, this book is worth reading whether or not you consider yourself a creative person.
496 reviews6 followers
August 1, 2017
In this book, Christian McEwen examines the relationship between slowing down and creativity. She has drawn from a large body of literature that supports slowing down as a way of increasing one's creativity. Taking time to slow down and observe one's environment and taking time to talk with friends instead of texting them. She has provided a large bibliography of the sources that she used while writing the book.

I enjoyed reading this book. I did take my time reading it. I think that if you are willing to spend some time with the book you will be rewarded but if you are someone who skim reads, I'm afraid that you will miss the point.
Profile Image for Rodopa.
188 reviews
November 15, 2021
Lyrical, inspiring at times, forced at times. Some chapters read like pages taken from a dissertation, too many references, not enough of the author's voice (on reading, writing, dreams), other chapters were incredibly useful for talking account of my own daily actions, assumptions, expectations (on hurry sickness, conversations). There are brilliantly expressed thoughts, and there were some dry, forced passages in every chapter. I enjoyed the many references to poetry, authors, ideas spanning the globe. Would love to get the book and tear the most inspiring pages out and make my own edited version to go back to time and time again for inspiration on slowing down to human pace.
Profile Image for Dina London.
224 reviews
September 12, 2018
So, it took me almost a year and a half to listen to this whole book. But, it wasn't because I didn't like it. In fact, it is a lovely book and I absolutely recommend it. It is read by the author and she reads very slowly and soothingly. The experience is almost meditative. Her stories are beautiful, heart warming, spiritual, and profound. It is the perfect book to read/listen to right before bed or when you need to feel a sense of calm.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
221 reviews8 followers
August 18, 2020
If you’re interested in art, creativity, and slowing down, this is a good resource. Good but not great. Too much of the book was dedicated to obscure examples that didn’t add much for me. Also, McEwen sometimes hit things so on the nose that I was underlining and copying quote after quote, then the next pages fell flat. There was an unevenness to this overall, but I’d still recommend it and plan to revisit it in the future.
Profile Image for Darci.
150 reviews
May 28, 2020
I enjoyed listening to this book. I liked the way it completed each section by giving tasks to help you put the topic into practice. I have yet to attend to completing those tasks, but I do intend to try many of them. The sprinkling of stories supported the topics in entertaining ways and it was relaxing in its presentation.
Profile Image for John Fredrickson.
594 reviews15 followers
July 13, 2018
I really enjoyed many sections of this book, but felt that it was over-long. It is a feast of personal stories as well as stories related from others about the benefits of slowing down to enjoy life.
Profile Image for tonia peckover.
525 reviews18 followers
May 21, 2019
A beautiful, thoughtful exploration of the many ways we can open space in our interior lives for peace, mindful engagement, and creativity. My copy is full of notes. As soon as I finished it, I turned to the front and started again. Marvelous book.
Profile Image for Gabriella.
Author 20 books42 followers
December 17, 2017
I took a long time to read this book in print format, savoring it. I found it genuinely illuminating. I hope I absorbed some of its lessons.
Profile Image for Anya Toomre.
73 reviews
March 14, 2022
I will happily re-read this book for years to come. There are so many bits and pieces to savor.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 48 reviews

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