Productive Patience by Steve Tuck

As young writers, we are all taught patience. Whether we possess it inherently or it’s forced upon us by the parameters of the profession, it is as much a part of the writing process as the construction of words to sentences to paragraphs to chapters to stories.

We wait for an idea that is instinctually good enough to explore. We wait for the words to come together in a way that properly conveys the idea. We wait as we meet word quotas, revise, and rewrite.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of waiting comes once the work is complete. Now, we query it, email it, snail mail it, with fingers crossed and hearts light.

Did they receive it? Did it end up in their spam box? Maybe that’s why they haven’t replied? Do they have an angry, jealous intern who tosses away everything in the slush pile because he is trying to be a writer? Maybe it’s not good enough? Are all those hours in the café for nothing? Should I be a writer at all? All people want is bland, cookie cutter crap. The industry is against me; they’re only about sales and regurgitating the same garbage. It’s not recycling if it’s still trash.

And the cycle continues. I’ve run that race many times and always end up at the same place. It’s time for a change.

I self-published my first novel. I designed a website, set up a Facebook fan page, started Tweeting, convinced a tech-wiz friend to bump my name and site to the top of Googles SEO. I paid a stranger to convert my Word file to the proper format for e-readers. Then I made my work available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords websites. I queried bloggers, any and all I could find, and asked, begged, convinced them to review my work. I sent it to the middle school and high school teachers I knew, some of whom graciously read it in their classrooms. I sold some copies and gained a tiny readership. I even received some fan art and mail. I was moved and inspired.

Then, more waiting. More writing, more sending out work.

I accosted publishers after writing conferences, burying my shame as they put their arms up in resistance. I splashed water on my face in various washrooms, giving myself a light slap and shadow boxing in the mirror. Come on! There are people starving, in wars, and you can’t even do this? You are an absolute weakling! (Bathroom mirror pep talks are rarely gentle.) Just walk right up to her, introduce yourself and give her the manuscript.

I forced a smile as one of these poor people after another explained why they couldn’t accept the folder that was now crunched and bent in my hand.  You know, this just isn’t a good fit for our agency. My apologies but you must go through an agent, it’s the publishing house’s policy. I don’t think this is commercial enough. Good luck, though.

I would usually just smile and shake their hands. Once they were out of sight, I’d curse at nobody or anybody and relapse as a smoker. By this point it wouldn’t be a leap to assume I’m simply a shoddy writer. But I’ve been doing it all my life. I simply couldn’t stop.

I wrote essays, short stories, and began work on a second novel. A year after I self-published my first novel, I reread what I’d written. A debilitating, air sucking punch to the gut. Was this really as good as it could be? I felt like a sham, a charlatan, an impatient toddler who’d stolen another lolly.

Sometimes as writers we are so hell-bent on making a living with our work and so fed up with patiently waiting that we forget to live a life. That was the glaring problem with my writing. It simply needed more time.

I started to do other things: I read more, I trained Jiu-jitsu, I ran, swam, went to the theatre and spent time with the love of my life. I volunteered, I learned to cook, I played basketball, I worked a catering job, and explored parts of the boroughs I’d never thought about before. I took the train just to take the train, to observe, to experience. I did a lot less writing and a lot more living.

Most writers tend to be an odd bunch. To chase an idea alone through the crevices of the heart and mind must take some sort of madness. But in this endless pursuit the world around oneself can sometimes fade into the background. It can lose its luster, its intoxicating grip, its mystery, its scents and sounds. These are important to the writer. Our tools are our lives and what we do with them.

This realization, albeit simple for some, was personally hard-realized because, persistently fueled by the deep desire to feed myself with my passion, I was lost in a fog of ambition.

Waiting is inevitable in this profession but there is a way to do it productively, beneficially, a realization to lessen the pain—a way to do it that serves and informs the work to come. Perhaps, sometimes, the path to better writing is to take some time and not write at all?

For my part, I have rewritten my first self-published novel. It has transformed, like a hermit crab, discarding a now too-small shell.  It has grown into something bigger—and better. I found an editor and she is waving her magical wand over it. And I’m here waiting, happily waiting.