Impatience in a writer is like paralysis in a sculptor or carelessness in a brain surgeon or corruption in a politician—well, I take that last one back, but you get the picture. Professions demand certain characteristics that move individuals ahead and make them successful. Writers must have patience. What kind of patience am I talking about? Every kind, actually.
Though I know this maxim to be true, I occasionally ignore it, deny it and—many times—fight it. Recently however, I was reminded of the inexorable truth after reading Charles Fraizer’s latest literary endeavor, Nightwoods. I was so intrigued by the author that I viewed and read a few of his interviews online. He spoke of his process in several of his conversations, and though I was impressed by many things, I was most impressed by his patience. When he started his masterpiece, Cold Mountain, winner of the National Book Award in 1997, he possessed enough of the rare quality to scare most would-be novelists away from the profession of writing forever. Charles Frazier took seven years to write his amazing first manuscript. And we are not even talking about the publishing process, which is an entirely different call for endurance.
Fortitude and persistence, marked with a good dose of serenity, guided Frazier’s experiences in writing—even after he had allowed the ambiguous story to roam around in his head for a very long time. Each day he would travel to the library to complete his research. Each day he would revise each word and each sentence until the rhythm and cadence of his story and verbiage matched the ideas in his head. And each day he invested the hours and hours of time required to produce such a masterpiece.
After reviewing Mr. Frazier’s interviews, I drew one undeniable conclusion about writing—not just that it takes great patience, but the patience it takes to write is visible in direct proportion to the product on the page. I have known many writers who are fast and prolific and successful. Even I can write a manuscript intended for category sale within a month—something that really shouldn’t impress you. But what about the quality and ultimate triumph of fast work? Well, we all know that mass market paperbacks are moneymakers, and as writers get better and better at their craft, they can produce them at sometimes amazing speeds—something that the rest of us should admire, but be cautious about, as well. Fast does not necessarily equal successful, though—unless you are Nora Roberts.
The problem with fast and impatient is this: what if you’re not published, or what if you wanted to break into a different genre or even sell at a different level than you had before? Cultivating patience is the answer. We must put our pants in our seats every day—for hours. We must get the story right by researching, planning and plotting to within an inch of our lives. We must edit the be-Jesus out of the words and sentences we commit to the page. And we must never give up—no matter how difficult the journey or how cornered we feel by our story lines—or how bright and sunny it is outside.
Notice that I haven’t even begun to discuss the publishing process, which could—and usually does—take years. Finding an agent or a publisher, revising multiple times after you’ve been assigned an editor, working on websites, marketing plans, blurbs and interviews are all necessary components of the extensive, convoluted job that a writer has to accomplish, even before that novel ever sees the light of a Kindle or a reading lamp.
So, do you have what it takes? Are you willing to put in the time and effort it requires to be successful at your craft? Because if you’re merely looking for a quick buck or immediate fame, you’ve most definitely embarked upon the wrong journey. What looks effortless and easy and born from raw talent is really an arduous process that is accomplished by spending many years on honing craft and story.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get started on working on my patience!