Thursday, 6 September 2018

The Real Skill All Writers Need: Patience

Many things in life seem to operate on the "hurry up and wait" principle but it applies to a lot of an author's career.  Hurry up and send the pitch and then wait patiently to hear from editors or agents.  Hurry up and promote and then wait to see if it helped readers to find your book.  Hurry up and write and then wait and go patiently through the editing process.

If I see one more teh...
When the story is still in an author's head, it can seem very easy.  When I begin, I feel like I can see the whole thing in my mind.  It's brilliant and amazing.

The challenge comes when I try to translate that interior vision onto the page.  What seems perfectly clear in my head turns out to be less clear when I need to capture it with words.  It takes patience to try out different ways of saying the same thing, trying subtle variations to find the right way to make the words disappear and then the story becomes real.

And it's not just the writing process.  All of the great authors are continually learning about their writing craft.  Which means reading widely and taking the time to break down how other authors convey meanings, emotions and impressions.  Recently, I read a story where a few short sentences created a horrific combination of vulnerability, denial, and terror as a predator grabbed their victim from behind.  It was an incredibly powerful impression that lingered with me for days afterwards.  

"She wasn't laughing when the screams started behind her, high and shrill and terrified, or when she felt the touch of a hand-oddly long and spindly, covered in a cool, clammy film, like aloe gel was smeared across the skin-on the back of her ankle. Elena stopped waving her arms. She closed her eyes. If she couldn't see it, it wouldn't be real. That was the way the world worked, wasn't it.  Her scream, when it came, was short and sharp and quickly ended." - from Mira Grant's Into The Drowning Deep

I've re-read that paragraph a half-dozen times since, trying to understand how the author created that effect.  Is it powerful because the only sensory description is done in relation to the monster's hand and the screams, making them stand out prominently in the reader's subconscious mind?  Is it the quick pacing, where the attack is over almost before the character realizes they're in trouble?  

It takes patience to try and understand the subtle differences that punctuation, word choice, and writing style can make.  It's a lot easier to just enjoy or dismiss and not think too much about why things work or why they don't.  It takes patience to work through a book (enjoyable or not) and learn from it.  It takes even more patience to apply those techniques to one's own writing and to see if they fit in an author's own voice.

Patience (and its counterpart, stubbornness) will get an author through a great deal of the challenges in this industry.  Got a brilliant story that doesn't quite fit the current market?  Have patience and watch the market for an opening.  Do you write slowly and could never do the publish a book every 90 days strategy?  Then be patient and develop your career more slowly.

Patience doesn't mean just passively waiting.  It means accepting your own pace and your own style and continuing in spite of any naysayers or pushes to do things differently.  It means accepting that you know yourself best and that there is not, and never has been, only one path to publishing success.

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