A comment by CJD in one of my Wyrdsmiths posts back in 2007 included this: “the struggle is with embracing that kind of strange patience (embracing uncertainty and ‘no applause,’ as the Buddhists say).” It got me thinking about writing and patience and the fact that it’s one place I am quite Zen.
One of the first things I learned back when I started down the writing road was how to be genuinely patient about things I had no control over and the corollary skill of figuring out which things I do and don’t have control over. It’s an important skill for a writer to try to develop.
I don’t have control over how fast editors will respond to my stories. I do have control over how many stories I have in the mail, and who gets what when. I don’t have control over whether or not a given market will buy a book of mine. I do have control over how good the book is.
At one point this led my father-in-law to comment on my being a type z* personality. The specific incident that made him say that had to do with a waitress having forgotten to get my order in with the cook so that my food failed to come at the same time as everyone else’s. My response was just to smile and tell her to get it to me when she could. I don’t have control over when my food comes. I do have control over whether or not to let it raise my blood pressure.
I get a lot of questions from friends and family about when will I see covers, copyedits, royalties, etc. I can usually answer these questions with educated guesses based on contract language, past experience, etc. and if asked I will dredge up the information, but I don’t think about it much otherwise. I’m not sure, but I think this drives some of them crazy—that I have to work to give them such important information and that it doesn’t seem to interest me.
But those are all whens that I can’t control, so there’s very little point in worrying about them or even thinking about them. Things I can control are how I react to the cover when it comes, when I turn in my copyedits relative to my deadline, and what I’ll do with any royalties.
This is not to say that I don’t get impatient, just that I try very hard not to. In my case that means learning not to think about the things I can’t control, and to focus intensely on the ones that I can. It’s something midway between denial and low grade meditation. I’m sure there are other ways of handling the issue of writer’s patience, but that’s what works for me.
*subsequent events have caused my father-in-law to rethink that one, as it’s not that I’m type z it’s just that the hyperfocused version of me mostly comes out when I’m sitting at my laptop with no witnesses.