First, a photo my friend Steph sent me of a T-shirt (or sweatshirt since it is getting into the 6 month cold season here in Minnesota) that I might have to buy (and also has no direct relevance on this post’s topic):
Patience does not jump into my mind first when it comes to writing. Plot. Characters. Conflict. Craft. Art. Details. Dialogue. Flow. Theme. Message. Purpose. Audience. Those probably all enter my brain first. Then I think drafting, revising, editing, cursing, despairing… wait, what? Oh yes, of course cheering, celebrating, and smiling occur, too (and they come in spades when it is just after the cursing and despairing – so, so great).
But really, writing and the writing process require a high level of patience. There is the patience of waiting through a dry spell, a time when the ideas pause in their flow or when words won’t come together in that way you want. The infamous writer’s block. These moments are frustrating, to say the least, and can be downright painful when moments turn to days to even longer for some. I write all over the place in my stories, but I remember one section that took me a long time to get back to and finish. I could not get my brain to wrap around how to make it work. Most of the time I refused to worry about it because of the whole idea of patience. But as I got closer and closer to finishing out other sections of the novel, I found this harder to do. And yet, the story came.
The best kind of patience happens when the ideas flood your brain. Sometimes we need the patience for our fingers to catch up with our brains. Or maybe it’s the time in the day to get the ideas to the page. I know I have days where work and family consume all my time and I must realistically tell my muse to wait. I can get antsy for work and family to disappear for a little while, but I won’t complain about the overflow of ideas.
The most difficult exercise in patience? Awaiting feedback from critique readers. When I sent chunks of original draft pieces to a couple of people, it was so much easier, because I was still writing the other parts of the story. I had something to keep me busy. When I finished it all – that became much harder. And at this stage of the game, where I am on the verge of beginning the phase of querying agents, it’s a tough round of patience. I am, I think, by nature a pretty patient person. And eight days out of ten, this self-description holds. The other two days, not so much.
Waiting on critique readers gives writers a new appreciation for patience. I certainly know that my manuscript is not top priority in others’ lives. I know their lives are full and I never ever forget that they are doing me a tremendous favor. But it is still hard. [ADDENDUM: I knew I should have included this disclaimer on the first go-around… hard to wait, but I WILL wait as long as necessary. I would never actually want to rush anyone. How can I be sure of valuable feedback if I do that? Again, the payoff in useful feedback far exceeds the impatience in waiting.]
And the optimist that I am remembers that this wait, this need for patience is a good thing. It has me setting aside the manuscript and forcing me to think on something new.
Herein lies the next writer’s patience: allowing the new idea to plant a seed and grow. But I am not one that sprouts ideas right and left for stories. And my writing is much like my reading; I’m pretty much a one story at a time person. So, I had to truly let go of the novel that is out of my hands for the moment, in order to allow the new character, who has started to make a home for herself in my head, time and space to develop her story. This weekend she and her story started to blossom. It has a long way to go, but in spite of the impatience of wanting to write something, I definitely have had the patience for this. My wanting to write something did not have to be this next novel. I mean, for heaven’s sake, Ana of Throwaway Lines lived in my head for years before her story came to fruition. I have definitely known that the next novel would not magically present itself in just a few days, and I give it wide berth. There’s no rush. This next thing might not even really be the next thing. Patience. The next novel is not a blog post. It is not fanfiction. Nor flash fiction. Nor a short story. I grant it the time it needs.
The payoffs for patience are well worth it.
But I’m kind of happy that this new idea got a kick start this weekend, because I’m waiting for feedback from my critique writers, and did I mention how HARD that is?
Where, in the writing process, do you need the most patience?