Monday, January 31, 2011

The patient writer

Lately I've been thinking about patience. It's a trait I've never had much luck with.

But it's pretty much a requirement for a novelist. Waiting years, or more, to finish a book. Waiting until it's as good as you can make it to send it out. Waiting for agents, editors. On her blog Pub Rants, agent Kristin Nelson recently blogged about how publishing houses are taking weeks, months (six months!) to negotiate contracts with authors. Another agent, Rachelle Gardner, posted on her blog about how prolific writers can end up several books ahead of their publisher.

In terms of the writing process, a little patience can be a good thing, too. Author Alisa Libby (in a blog interview with author Anna Staniszewski) recently said, "I am incredibly impatient—both with myself and with my writing. Why can’t I write faster? I ask myself. Why do I have to revise a book so many times? Maybe an ounce or more of patience would slow down my writing process and require fewer drafts." After all, slow and steady wins the race, right?

But sometimes patience isn't all it's cracked up to be. Sometimes an author should be actively submitting her manuscript, working hard to find the right agent. Sometimes a story is timely, and needs to get out as soon as possible. And sometimes, I believe, writers need to push themselves, write as quickly as possible, and jump around a bunch, in order to find the heart of their story.

Earlier in January, I blogged about whether or not my first draft HAD to make it to The End. I was eager to start revising Project Demo, filling in various details I had skipped along the way, deepening my story.

So impatience won. I wrote a detailed outline of my book's climax and resolution, and then jumped back to the beginning. I'm currently working on Chapter 2 of Project Demo. Was it the right decision? Or rash?

I have no idea. At the moment, I'm happily revising. But there might be all sorts of problems waiting for me when I attempt to write my climax for the second time.

Perhaps it isn't just about patience. Perhaps it's more about instinct. Sometimes we push, sometimes we hold. Sometimes we just have to guess based on how we're feeling at the moment.

What about you? Do you consider yourself a patient person? A patient writer?


  1. Hah, I did the exact same thing as you! Left my climax and went back to deepen the book first. Am telling myself that my climax will be better and more organic if the book is better throughout first, and that I can make sure the pace and MC's motivation ramps up properly all the way through. Let's hope it's true.

    I am definitely not patient, but in a way it's good right now, since am motivating myself to finish this WIP by dangling the carrot of a shiny new WIP once I've finished.

  2. Oh, how funny, GF! My thoughts EXACTLY! Sounds like we have similar processes--hopefully we can make them work for us!

    Motivating yourself to finish a wip is a perfect example of how impatience can be a good thing, I think. Course, as long as you can ensure your revision is the best it can be--that can be my problem!

  3. I'm such an impatient writer. It's one of the things that I'm working on this year for sure. But I am glad that I decided not to submit what I had and work on it some more. It's a process. Day by day thing.

  4. Karen, I think there's really something to be said for ignoring the publishing world for a while, focusing on being creative and writing every day. And I think it gets easier to get sucked into the writing instead of worrying about submissions. That was certainly the case for me--though now I'm as impatient as ever all over again!

  5. Oh, I'm impatiently patient. Meaning, I am resigned to being patient b/c my life experiences tell me I must, but I still have a knot of anxiety b/c I feel I am not moving fast enough. Plus, I think there is a weird dichotomy with writing: one hand, our publishing world operates in the instant (twitter, fb, etc.) and on the other, writing/querying/publishing takes a very long time.

  6. Oh, that is so true, Bridgette. There's a great David Almond quote about this: "I became an ‘overnight success’ (I clapped when I read the review that said it) after almost twenty years." It's hard not to get that knot of anxiety, I think, patient or impatient!

  7. As you said, I think sometimes you have to push yourself and sometimes you have to wait. If you're rushing ahead because all you can think about is being done then chances are you're being hasty. But if you find yourself dragging your feet, it might be because you don't have a clear enough plan for the story. Some projects just take a long time, as frustrating as that can be!

  8. Anna: You explained this so clearly. Sometimes in the midst of writing, it really doesn't feel this simple! But I think you're right, it's all about what you want and the reason you're being patient or impatient.


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