Patience in the Career of a Writer

Patience is a tough concept in this day and age. I'm 51 years old and I observed the 'I want it now' cultural underflow hitting my world in the Eighties, I think. I'm even a victim of it – there are times when I stupidly buy the dvd I really wanted on release, knowing I might not watch it for six months – and hey, the dvd is going to invariably be cheaper in six months. I really wanted to finish a particular home improvement project and even though I don't have to complete it today, I take the extra expense and time of going to the relevant shops to buy that component. etc etc.

I can't afford to take that mentality with writing. I can't, not at every level. I will give in to that extra push to write whats bubbling in me, at heavy cost to health and sleeplessness – but that's more the creative urge than any other serious root cause. What I'm talking about is the need to climb the vocational ladder of authorship. I'm talking about getting recognized by one's peers. Being a member of the SFWA. Making a semi-pro living, leading to pro living from the craft. Aside from ridding oneself of impatience so that one doesn't go round the twist, the critical reason to learn patience is to avoid the mental and physical pitfalls of being in a state of impatience.

Self-publishing is a good example. While I acknowledge and have respect for some self-publishers making a go of it, and those very few who actually succeed (by any reasonable definition), I can't help but feel that many of the self-published authors are simply impatient. They want the success that they have so eagerly and unhealthily (in relative terms) wanted. And they settle for less to gain that rung on the ladder. Perhaps for some this is the right way to go, as this is their peak or they are satisfied with the rung, but for others, I am sure it isn't.

Short fiction is a more measurable environment to analyze the topic. There are elite publications/epublications, there are medium level, and there are lots of low. How long does it take to make one's first 'pro sale'? I read a number of prominent/established short fiction writers' blogs and almost all of them talk about the usual apprenticeship taking ten years. Yes. TEN YEARS. This is presumably from the point in time when a conscious, mature decision was made to actively achieve a pro sale. That requires patience. I believe Jay and others will tell you that this isn't a situation of wasting one's time – it is a situation of learning, growing, and achieving narrative that at each step-point in one's growth was not imagined in previous iterations. I'm not saying it will take, say, you, ten years to get there. What I'm saying, however, is that if it takes ten, or fifteen, or whatever, years, then you will grow from the experience, and you must, aside from the eagerness and love of the craft, have patience.

A subtlety of this topic, which in fact contributed to the motivation to write it, was a link by Jay Lake to a most interesting blog by Jim van Pelt, on the relationship between 'hard work' and 'achievement'. He says that there are important synergies, but they are not proportional. He makes the wise observation that it is the experience of the process that ultimately will be the reward.

I have witnessed many incidents where friends and acquaintances in their early writing careers, make some poor decisions. In hindsight, I believe that many of them were caused by impatience – not the classic human frailty kind, but resultant from a lot of frustration with rejection, and exacerbated by the very thing that makes them writers – their creative urge. I have even lost friends because of their impatience.

All I can say is be patient (and smart).

2 thoughts on “Patience in the Career of a Writer

  1. Gerry, I can relate to this. That is why I’m thankful for the rise of small press publishing. If we writers waited for the ‘traditional route’ to successful publication, we’d be waiting in vein-most of us anyway. This is no reflection on a writer’s ability, talent or creativity. To the contrary, I’m always saddened by the thought of so many deserving authors whose work is never show-cased. All because they were advised to subscribe to the old school methods of getting an agent, and to never query a publisher on ones own. That was what I was told many years ago. It made me exhausted. Like so many others, I have enough rejection letters from agents, (even one proclaiming that for a mere $500 I could have my book professionally edited and published!) to paper the walls of my living room. Do you think that sometimes it might be an author’s excitement, rather than impatience that leads him/her to make hasty decisions? I know I have been guilty of that in the past. I have been so overcome with the idea that my writing could make a connection with others that I made some, well…dumb decisions. I still feel that excitement, for the whole process of writing. Sometimes it threatens to lead me down a thorny path, but I remind myself to stay the course and keep a level head, which gives me the best opportunity of connecting with as many people as possible. Peace, Bree


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