The Importance of Patience

I am not a patient person.  Self motivated? Disciplined?  Hardworking?  These words can describe me enough of the time for me to consider them part of my character.

But patient?

I’m a terrible patient.  When I get sick–which is generally an annual, week-long occurrence–I fall into a depression that is worse than my physical ailments.  Kyle is always so helpful– propping me up on pillows or getting me a glass of water in the middle of the night or cooking a big pot of jok– a Chinese porridge made of boiled down rice, doctored with spices.  He is my cheerleader any day of the year, but especially when I am sick.

Kyle constantly reminds me that I am more than just a writer.  Writing is something that I do, but it is not who I am.  For some reason I have difficulty keeping that distinction in perspective.  When I get sick he shoves a video game controller into my hands or insists that I watch TV or just check-out and relax until I feel better.  I ignore his suggestions.

I usually tell myself that I’ll feel better in the morning, and give myself an afternoon of “light” work– reading my draft, making notes, doing research or planning what I will do tomorrow when I’m not sick anymore.  I fight through my fevered haze, but by evening I only feel worse, and the next day my symptoms remain persistent.  Then I get angry.

Nothing makes me feel more useless than not being able to write.  I love what I do, and I am driven to meet my goals.  I have often written in this blog about how I need more balance between work and the rest of my life.  I know this not in small part because I will work myself sick, as if crash landing in bed with the flu is the only way my body can get me to stop.  As a self-starter, I never needed to be patient– I could go out and get the job done myself. When I get sick, or find myself in situations where I have to briefly suspend my work, I lose patience with being patient.

Writing a novel length project (currently weighing in at 91,940 words) has taught me a lot.  I have learned more about the mechanics of story, plot, when to indulge the reader and when to end the chapter– leaving them craving more.  It has taught me how to develop a character across chapters and how to “kill all my darlings.”  Most of all, it has taught me how to be patient.

Once a week, every week, for the past year, I had announced to Kyle, “I think this might be the week I’ll finish my book.”  I was always a little dumbfounded when I had not met my goal, asking myself, “Why isn’t it finished?”  I was especially frustrated since this book is a memoir– I knew every part of the story, all the characters.  There was no  information to discover in exercises or rough sketches, I lived the whole thing, it was just a matter of committing it to paper.

Kyle quickly caught on to the trend, and would encourage me to give myself more time, “If you say you can finish it in a week, you should actually give yourself a month, or more.”  Again, I would ignore him and by the end of the week find myself as perplexed and frustrated as ever.  Until I finally finished my manuscript.

I passed my book along to my friends who will give me feedback in a workshop within a week.  I shared in a previous post that I had taken a break from writing and was looking forward to having a little more distance from my work to be able to enjoy the process, but found myself a little bit at a loss.  What was I supposed to do next?

Well, I started working on publicity, social media, and blogging more often– as many of my Facebook friends may have noticed.  When it came to producing more work, I had not entirely figured that out.  I had thought, with a month away from my first book, I could start drafting my second.  I was hopeful that I could have another rough-but-complete draft of my next project ready for expansion by the time I had to return to my almost-done book.  A week away from the workshop and I hadn’t met that goal, I found my typical impatience returning.

Now, I realize that patience (or my lack thereof) is only part of the problem.  I still have to learn how to set reasonable goals and expectations for my work.

After two recent Grub Street lectures, I left reminded of the importance of patience. Author Barry Eisler– who made headlines by turning down a half-million dollar advance to self publish– encouraged writers to be patient.  We can self-publish, and for many of us, that might be a good idea– even profitable!  But no one wants to read something that isn’t well crafted or sloppy.  Jason Ashlock, a literary agent, shared a similar sentiment. Although authors are more empowered than ever before, we need to be as thoughtful with our publishing as we are with our prose; execute a deliberate plan crafted with patience and learn from the process.

It is a process and I am learning, every step of the way.  I am reminded too, of a Buddhist saying–“If there is anything worth doing, do it with all your heart.”