Sunday, May 15, 2011

On patience

The process of writing a good book should teach the writer many things: elements of craft, elements of storytelling, problem solving, humility.  The hardest lesson I had to learn was patience.

Most everything related to language, communication, bullshitting has come easy for me.  Just finishing a novel, while an accomplishment, doesn't mean that anyone in particular will want to read it.  I had to learn to invest the time into improving what I wrote.  I had to make it so good that no one could stop reading after picking it up.

It's harder to do than I thought.  It took a good idea, even better execution, and the best kind of rewriting.  That's where the patience came in.  I know that 80% of the book, as it stands, is great.  But now I have to till over that 20%, break up the clumps, make them into something fertile.  That 20% isn't limited to a couple of chapter, it's mixed in with everything else.  So, first I have to find the rough patches before I can begin to repair them.

For someone accustomed to easy facility with language, it's been a hard climb.  I won't get it right the first time.  I may have to wordsmith a paragraph forty or fifty times (over a period of months) before it is just right.  Telling a simple tale requires an awful lot of work to make it a good tale and then also simple.  Back and forth, refining, improving, making the occasion decision for the worse, restoring to a previous version, and trying again to make it clearer, more engaging, better.

I read, on average, two books a week now.  It's good for keeping motivated to write.  Good for picking up beautiful ideas on how to use language, how to bend and twist it, too.  I have run into a patch of bad book picking, books I close after a few chapters.  Stories that begin well, but a few chapters in collapse on themselves.  Discouraging and frustrating.  I find that published authors don't necessarily exercise the kind of patience I wish they would as they tell their stories.  In fact, some of the books seem written by lazy folks, craftsmen who could do better work if they put more thought into it, more time, more refining of the plot or the characters or the language.

That's a lesson in itself.  Making it into print doesn't mean the next book and the next book also deserve to make it into print (even if many of them do).  It's too easy to coast.  It's too easy to relax and take a easy path once in the door.

After all the work I've gone through to get my writing muscles into shape, I hope I never let them get so flabby in the future.  I've learned some aspects of patience.  I know I have more to discover.  But I think I'm better for it.  I think my writing is, too.

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