Sunday, December 07, 2014

Cultivate Patience

Writing’s not a career for the faint-hearted or those seeking instant gratification.

So much of a writer’s life is spent waiting—waiting for words to come, stories to appear, the next critique group to meet, the response to a manuscript or contract from an editor or agent.

Waiting can transform your writing life into a daunting succession of days filled with agony, self-doubt, and frustration.

But if you're able to take a different perspective, waiting can give you much-needed breathing room from the unrelenting routine (and often confusion) of your work-in-progress.

Perhaps you’ve noticed as you plow through draft after draft that you've grown closer to your characters and more deeply enmeshed in the plot.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, too, you've grown so close that sometimes you can lose sight of where the story is going, or you can no longer understand the underlying motivations for the way your characters are behaving or the reasons for that last plot twist.

Waiting can give you the space and distance that you need to see your work anew.

While you’re waiting, you might decide to doodle in your notebook with a new pen and unexpectedly stumble over a new idea that will let you take your work-in-progress in a new direction, or you might discover a new project altogether.

While you’re waiting, you might take a break from writing and go outside to shovel snow off the sidewalk, or mow the lawn (if you live in Florida), or putter with plants or paint brushes or a new computer program, or bake a chocolate chip banana bread, or experiment with a new recipe for black bean burgers—anything to give your mind a chance to rest, to free yourself from the tyranny of waiting.

For most of us writing is, as E.B. White wrote, “laborious and slow.”

White reminds us that “The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by.”

Writing is a waiting game, and, as writers, it’s our job to wait for the next thought or idea to flash across the screen of our imagination.

“A writer is a gunner,” wrote White, “sometimes waiting in his blind for something to come in…”

But sometimes we can go after ideas and seek out stories instead of waiting for them to appear.

In White’s words, we can roam “the countryside hoping to scare something up.”

Of course, it helps to remember, whether you’re waiting for ideas or scouring the countryside in search of them, stories aren’t written overnight.

It helps, too, to remember the wisdom of E.B. White, and to remind yourself of his advice that a writer “must cultivate patience; he may have to work many covers to bring down one partridge.”

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