When I was a waitress, back in my teens, there was an older woman who was sort of my waitress mentor. Jo was a lovely woman in so many ways, many of which I failed to appreciate at the time, of course. But chief among her many fine qualities was patience. She was unflappable, and she encouraged me to try to build a little more patience of my own. When I was getting all upset about the table who wouldn’t make up their minds, or the couple who wouldn’t vacate their booth during a busy lunch rush, or the children who dropped bits of their pancakes all over the floor, Jo would softly say:
“Patience, dear heart.”
I was reminded of this the other day when I was having breakfast with my agent. I’m pretty sure it was the setting – Fred 62 restaurant in L.A. bears some eerie resemblances to Howard Johnson’s in Columbia, MO circa 1980 (other than the fact that Fred 62 is all hip and ironic and HoJo’s was decidedly NEVER either of those things.)
Anyway I was whining and carrying on like I do, “why can’t I have” this and “how is it that they don’t recognize my brilliance” that and “how come x didn’t review me” and so on. I’d built up a real head of steam and was talking with my mouth full and annoying the other customers, prattling and possibly ranting. Barbara let me do this for a while before she pointed out, taking a dainty and ladylike sip of her water:
“You’ve only been doing this for a few years, you know. It takes time.”
I paused, for in the air to make some point or other, and backed up. Huh. I counted on my fingers. 2008, 2009, 2010…four. Four years since I signed with Barbara, and less than three since my first book was released in August of 2009.
To give you some perspective, some of the ladies on this blog have been publishing for decades. DECADES. All of them have been published longer than I have, and they’ve all had more experience and have been very gracious about sharing it with me.
I’m not a patient person by nature, as Jo recognized thirty years ago. I’ve learned a little since then, but I think I’ll always be plagued with a desire for things to move more quickly than their natural pace. I’m ambitious. There. I said it. (When I was growing up, ambition was not always encouraged in girls; nowadays we’ve largely corrected that societal misstep, thank heavens.) I want many things for my career, and while it is great to have a list and work toward it voraciously, I need to work on the part that says “I have failed because I don’t have it yet.” Everything in its time, and every writer to her own path.
The interesting thing is, I’m acutely aware of this in others. As so often happens with us flawed humans, I can drive everyone else’s boat while foundering at the dock with my own. Earlier this year I was addressing a gathering of aspiring authors, and I heard a number of things that made me uneasy:
“I am not the type of person who is good with rejection, so I’m going to publish this myself.”
“I know there are some problems with this manuscript, but I have a great idea for the next one so I’m going to start sending it out as is and see what happens.”
“Copy editing isn’t really important any more – people aren’t as focused on grammar in electronic publishing – so I’m going to skip that step.”
…and the number one most worrisome comment that I have heard over and over:
“I need to get content into the market *now* because no one knows what it will look like next month (next year, in five years etc.)”
I have been very judgmental of statements like these, without taking the time to consider that I wasn’t applying the same standards to my own work. For instance, I would love a wider audience for my young adult novels. But at the same time, I have always had a nagging feeling that I still have lessons to learn about young people’s reading tastes and my own skills in addressing them. Is it possible that my audience will grow as my YA voice matures? (Patience, dear heart…)
Or the elusive film deal. Who wouldn’t want to see their story on the production list for Hollywood? But wouldn’t it be better to wait until I’ve written the story that will really capture a film audience, than have a book picked up that isn’t truly cinematic? (Patience, dear heart…)
…and so it goes. So I’m back at the drawing board, working steadily, which by the way is ALWAYS the right answer when a writer asks herself “what next?”
I’d love to know your tips for being more patient. I would also love to know what you think of Junior’s new boots, which just arrived. What do you think – should I “borrow” them the minute she’s not looking? Up for grabs is a $15 Zappos gift certificate. Yeah, I know, it’s not enough for a new pair of shoes but it’ll at least get you started. 🙂