Friday, April 21, 2006

Patience, please!

I once bought a greeting card I still own because it fits me to a tee. This is what it says:

Lord grant me patience...
And hurry up!

That’s me— impatient and wishing I weren’t, but unable to change. Naturally, I chose to be a novelist, a career that requires infinite patience! But oddly enough, it suits me well. Lately I’ve been mulling this over. How can someone who wants everything yesterday be not only content, but passionately happy as a writer? I have come to realize that I am not impatient about all things. I can wait for and work steadily toward those things that really matter to me. (I’m not talking health stuff here. When someone I love needs immediate medical attention, I get pushy and very impatient. Grrr.)

But writing? For that I am willing, even eager, to roll up my sleeves, plant my behind in the chair, and do what it takes, often spending months to flesh out a story. That said, I wouldn’t be honest unless I admitted that impatience usually does strike within the first three chapters, when I am unsure of my characters and the direction of the story. (The synopsis can help, but not always). Then I yearn to jump to where I think my characters ought to be. But my books are character-driven, so skipping ahead doesn’t work. For a few days and sometimes up to a full week, I find myself unable to move forward at all. That’s when I mentally stamp my foot (the perfect picture of impatience), pull out my hair and bemoan my lack of progress. During this unpleasant time my family tiptoes around me, but we’ve been through this before, and they know the bad mood will pass. Sometime during this “dark” period I remind myself to take baby steps. That is the way a story unfolds, slowly, one sentence, one paragraph, one scene at a time. When I finally remember that (why I keep forgetting is beyond me!), the impatience fades, my mood improves, and I can proceed.

Anybody else out there impatient? If so, whether you’re a writer, a reader or both, how do you curb that impatience when writing or reading a book?


Nancy Herkness said...

Actually, Ann, I love the first three chapters of writing a book because it's so fraught with possibilities. I don't yet know my characters really well, I don't have a clue what's going to happen between now and the end, and I haven't yet gotten bogged down in the sagging middle so I just enjoy the limitless range of options spread before me.

I have a much harder time about halfway through the book when I've hit that darned sagging middle and I feel as though I've gotten boxed into a direction I don't want to go. I usually end up tossing a few chapters and redirecting. That makes me feel almost as though I'm starting over again. That's when my patience wears thin and I just want to type THE END.

However, once I get through that, then it's fun to race toward the end in a frenzy of exciting scenes.

When I get impatient with a book as a reader, my solution is simple: stop reading and get rid of the book. Sometimes I know I'm just in the wrong mood to read a certain volume so I'll put it away and try again later. However, I only do that with authors I feel are really worthwhile. I've gotten pretty ruthless about not continuing with a book I don't like. Life's too short to read bad books.

Ann Roth said...

Good point about getting rid of books that make you impatient, Nancy. If I half-way like the book and really want to know what happens, I often skim through parts, until I reach a point where the story again interests me. Otherwise, like you, I toss it. Life's too short and there are too many books in my to-be-read pile to waste on something I don't like.

Sharon Page said...

Excellent question! Inevitably, I find the next book begins calling to me about halfway through the current w.i.p., and then I, oh so desperately, want to work on the next book. The only thing that works for me is F.O.G. Fear of God. I know if I don't just be patient and keep working, I'll get in huge trouble with my deadline. I try to keep notes of other ideas, and that usually satisfies the craving to be done and onto the next project. But, in my heart, I always want that 400 page book to be finished in a week. Two at the most. Never happens though.

Colleen Thompson said...

It's tough being impatient and a writer, since writing is the best example of delayed gratification I can think of. It's all about waiting. Waiting to hear back from someone in New York. Waiting for the edits, the cover art, the finished product.

The funny thing is, when galleys show up on the doorstep, no one's waiting very long for me to get them back!