Friday, April 2, 2010

Patience is a Habit. (Because Virtues Are Overrated.)

In the spirit of the GRE, I have some math for you. Here goes.

Writing + the desire to be published = waiting. (Think about it. Writing. Waiting. Only one letter away from each other. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.)

If you're querying, you know this already. You send out queries. You wait weeks to hear back. You send out partials. You wait months to hear back. And that doesn't change when you get an agent, either. Because believe it or not, it takes time for someone to read 300 pages of your revised novel. (I know. Shocking, right?) And then you're on sub, and you get to wait for THOSE responses. I think you get the point: the waiting. Never. Ends.

No problem. I am a patient person. At least, I THOUGHT SO. And then I spent a few months refreshing my inbox every three minutes and getting progressively twitchier and twitchier, and I realized that even the most patient person goes absolutely insane when they're waiting for Big News. So what the HECK are we supposed to do about it? How do you LEARN patience? Is patience something you CAN learn?

I'm here to tell you that it is.

And that may be wishful thinking.

I'm sure you've heard this phrase: Patience is a virtue. Well, I have specific opinions about trying to develop virtues. If you've ever read a little thing called Divergent, you know that. My main character happens to agree with me. (Fancy that!) Here, let me show you her thoughts:

“No one’s perfect,” I say. “It doesn’t work that way. One bad thing goes away, and another bad thing replaces it.”

In Divergent, people basically isolate a virtue and try as hard as they can to develop just that virtue. And I don't think it's a huge spoiler to say that IT DOESN'T WORK. Not only is it impossible, but it's not a good idea. Too much focus on any "virtue" screws something else up. Like if you focus too much on being peaceful, you might just let bad things happen to the people around you so you "don't rock the boat." Or if you focus too much on honesty and you forget about kindness. Human beings can't make themselves perfect. That's my opinion. Feel free to disagree with me.

In any case, you will find it frustrating and difficult to try to change your personality and make yourself more patient. It's not helpful to me to think "I need to be more virtuous." Yeah, I know that. It is helpful to think about what I can DO.

I find the following quote a little more helpful. The source is unknown.

"Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow - that is patience."

The key? KEEP GOING. Keep writing! I have so much trouble with this. When I'm waiting for something, I want all of my attention to be focused on that thing. But I have to stop changing the theme of my gmail every hour because I'm tired of what I'm staring at. I have to stop clicking the circle with the arrow at the end. I have to get up and do something else.

The problem is that for writers, "something else" does not involve moving to a different location. For me, "something else" requires me to sit at my computer, which is THE SCENE OF THE OBSESSING CRIME, and exercise extreme self-control by not opening the inbox again.

That's why I say that patience is a habit, just like obsessing is a habit. You sit down, you immediately open your inbox, and you start with the clicking (which, by the way, is going to give you carpal tunnel syndrome. CUT IT OUT.) But if you just change it in a few little ways, your obsessing can become patience.


Sit down. Open your word document before you open your browser.

In fact, do not open your browser.

In fact: turn off your wireless altogether. Not forever! Give yourself a time limit. 60 minutes of productivity, and then I get my internet back. Something like that. I mean, I don't care if you just stare at your blank document for a half hour. You can't stare at it for a minute, and then give up and go on the internet. That's what we call Indulging the Crazy. Better to stare blankly at the document than to refuse to think about your writing altogether.

(The following paragraph is for those of us with email capabilities on our phones. Sorry, tech-people. This won't help you.) My phone beeps every time I get an email. That may sound irritating to many of you, but it leads me to stop checking my email, because I know that if the phone hasn't beeped, there's no point, I don't have one. And no amount of frantic clicking will make one appear. If you don't want all your emails delivered to your phone, you can always filter certain emails (with key words like "query" or the title of your MS) to a different email address, and have THOSE emails sent to your phone.

Don't constantly talk about how impatient you are.
I know we live in this society where you've gotta talk all your feelings out in order to get over them, blah blah blah. But my theory is: talking arises from thinking. Which leads me to my next suggestion.

STOP THINKING ABOUT IT. Don't dwell. It's not healthy. Think about something else. The new WIP. The book you're reading. The fact that at any moment, sea creatures could rapidly evolve highly intelligent brains, grow legs, and take over the planet with sheer size and force of numbers.


Basically, you think you need a support group for your crazy impatience. You don't. (Okay, maybe sometimes you do. I'm not saying that you should bottle up the Crazy. I'm saying you shouldn't INDULGE the Crazy.)

What you need is a new thought pattern. A new habit. Write through your impatience. Write through your rejections. Always, always, always write. It's the only way that you'll make it out of this alive.


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