Sunday, October 28, 2007

Waiting for the Tide

Over at The Green Knight's Chapel last week, Nick Green, the author of The Cat Kin, had this to say about patience:
If there is one quality or trait that I think all writers should have, it is not word power or wisdom or soul or wit. It is patience. Patience in abundance. Oceans of it. Great galactic nebula-spanning clouds of patience.
And Nick's right on the mark. We do need to learn patience ... oceans of patience... much as swimmers need to learn the tidal currents before setting off from shore.

Nick goes on to describe the difficulty of waiting for the day that a writer receives the call or letter from an editor (or agent) announcing that his work has been accepted:
You awake with the same maddening optimism, the same blind conviction that maybe the past six months have been worth it, because THIS IS THE DAY. And then, every day, the hope evaporates sometime between four o’clock and five, leaving a sour residue that is soon coating your whole life and turning you into a moody beast. You live on tenterhooks, stretched between two opposing forces: ‘Any day now’ and ‘Give it up’.
This kind of waiting is, indeed, maddening. It could drive even the strongest-willed, most determined writer insane, just as waiting for the tide to change might make the most competent swimmer wonder if he'll ever feel the touch of water again.

That's why learning to wait is, as Nick suggests, one of the essential elements of learning to write.

But waiting for an editor or agent to accept our work is so painful, I think, because it's a wait for validation from the outside, an attempt--conscious or not--to seek external approval and praise for what we have accomplished.

Instead of finding satisfaction in the work itself, we seek satisfaction in the words of others.

Waiting for our own words to come, on the other hand, requires a different kind of patience. It's akin to bird-watching, which, like writing, demands the willingness to wait patiently for hours to witness something unexpected and extraordinary take flight.

This process of waiting for words is driven by love--or something very much like love--and the waiting is soul-driven rather than ego-driven.

It's a life-affirming activity, rather than a spirit-draining one, if only because the discovery of those words inspires us to keep seeking, defining, and re-shaping what's most important: the work itself.

Waiting for validation from an outside source can easily undermine our faith, erode our confidence, and destroy our joy in the process.

Cultivating the kind of patience that allows words to emerge from an inner source, however, offers our hearts the chance to grow, explore, and expand into new territory.

Writing can be a source of agony or a source of peace, depending on our perspective and on our expectations.

It's a question of finding our balance, I think, the place at the shoreline where we can wait for the tide without driving ourselves mad.

This isn't a new dilemma facing writers today.

In the 17th century, La Rochefoucauld, a master of the art of waiting (and writing), had this to say:

"When you cannot find peace in yourself it is useless to look for it elsewhere."

To read the original post which inspired these thoughts, visit Nick's blog, The Green Knight's Chapel, at:

And for more thoughts on writing and patience, visit these sites:


Jack said...

I think you've put the drive for outside validation in good perspective, Bruce. It can only be one of the goals we keep in play; others, like exploring our imagination, honing craft, creating art, are reason enough to stay enthralled with our pursuit.

Bruce said...

Exploring our imagination and honing our craft, as you say, is the key to staying enthralled...
Thanks for putting it so well.

Nick said...

Wise words, Bruce; a more measured response than my somewhat primal scream of rage! I was going to add a postscript to mine, along the lines of writing for its own sake being more important, and the reason anyone really writes... but decided to save it until someone else said it first (and I had a feeling it would be Bruce!). I'm patient 360 days of the year; but there are those other days...!

Bruce said...

Thanks, Nick. Waiting is an inevitable part of this business, as you point out so well, and I imagine that we all have days of rage. (I know that I do!)

The key to warding off impatience and rage, I suspect, can be found in what Jack said about "staying enthralled..."

How to stay enthralled... that's the crux of the matter.

It's a question of balance for me, striving to preserve that spell of enchantment while writing...and, over many years, learning how to eliminate or ignore anything--or anyone--that might break that spell.

I think it's terrific that you've managed to cut the rage down to five days of the year. That seems to me quite a successful balancing act. We should all learn to be so patient.