Patience

I don’t have much of it, I admit. But I’ve been getting better, at least in my personal life. What I’ve come to understand in the past week or so, though, is I don’t have any patience in my writing life.

Putting the words of a novel on the page and then refining those words is a long process. Months. Sometimes years. But when I get an inkling of an idea or a character, I’m not patient enough to explore it, to roll it around in my head and on paper before I start writing. Thus, as I get deeper into the story, something invariably goes wrong.

I guess it’s kind of like starting to build a tower without first counting the cost. Oh I count the cost in terms of time and energy, but I don’t count other costs—like not being able to show something for a day or week’s “work.” I like concrete definitions of accomplishment. So many words written. So many pages edited. When I spend hours thinking, writing notes, sifting through ideas, I look back at the end of a day feel a vague sense of dissatisfaction. As if the “productivity police” are going to arrest me for lack of evidence.

I’ve realized this as I’ve read and studied the process of writing again. It is more than just having a story or situation in mind. I also have to have some idea where I’m going with it. As a SOTP (seat-of-the pants, a non-outliner) writer, I’ve disdained having a final destination for my characters.

But in The Plot Thickens, Noah Lukeman provided me a new perspective on destinations. “It is like putting your character on a train bound for California. If he decides to get off in Arizona, that’s fine. If it turns out he should settle there and never get back on the train, that’s fine, too. But he never could have known about Arizona if he hadn’t first gotten on that train for California—if he hadn’t had some destination in mind.”

In my impatience, I put my half-formed, blindfolded characters on a train to nowhere. Perhaps if I’d take a bit more planning time to figure out a destination, my characters will still surprise me by their detours in the spinning out of their stories. In fact, they probably will. If only I can hold back, think and plan and ponder until that right moment. Then, having counted the cost, hopefully the tower can be constructed with less effort and more enjoyment than ever before.

1 comment on “Patience

  1. This is an interesting thread. I was just talking with someone the other day, saying I’m not the kind of writer who works on things for years. I just don’t. If somebody made me, I think I’d go mad. But writers like me and you, then we have a different process. We may write things, finish things that aren’t quite “it.” Then we’ll go on to other things. In essence, it will still take us years to write, but it will be done by jumping from one piece to the next, until we arrive at an acceptable level. I think this is okay. But it’s probably something one should understand (because, hey, publishers may not want to publish those in between pieces! 🙂

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