“Beware the fury of a patient man.” – John Dryden
According to my mother, patience was never my strong suit. Of course, she was my mother, and what teen daughter doesn’t regularly lose patience with her mother, though as I got older, my friends would comment on just what a patient friend I was. Just ask Carletta, whose dorm bed I sat on for hours and hours and hours and hours (and hours) watching her straighten her (seemingly to me) already straightened hair before we could go out on the town. Or Sabrina, who, when we were newly 21, said, “Let’s drive across the country with a vague idea of where we are going and little idea of where to stay once we get there!” and I did, without question. Or, my sister, Michelle, who emptied the hall clothing hamper when I was young so she could stick me inside and sit on the lid. I have distinct memories of staring out the holes of the metal back of the hamper, arms around my knees, waiting for Michelle to get bored and leave so I could tip the hamper over and crawl out.
I developed a contradictory notion of my own patience. I knew both to be true. Which was it? Was I a patient person or not?
My mother had plenty to say on the topic, of course, but my father never said anything about it. I wouldn’t have even expected him to notice until, twelve years ago, my now husband approached my father to ask that thing about marriage and stuff.
My father’s response?
Frank Fox: (clears throat) “Well, there’s something you need to know about K.K. She’s very…[pause]…deliberate. You see, when she wants something, she finds a way to get it.”
Me, on listening to this story: [shock that my father had something to say about me that I had never heard before yet couldn’t deny because I had to think about it for a second, manifested as a long pause………..]
Then: WHAT? Excuse me, I’m what? What the hell does that mean? Is that good or bad? And why are you warning this guy about me? You’re supposed to threaten him with a bat or something.
I’ve known plenty of loss and failure in my life. I haven’t won everything I’ve tried to win. I’ve known a healthy amount of disappointment. But, I’ve known plenty of success, too. And I know how to work hard. I like goals. I generally know how to achieve them.
So in this writing business, as Hananah and I embarked on the Bradbury Challenge of 2015, that was a good goal that inadvertently led me to the more important goal of writing a book. I’ve written most of it, or at least the first draft, but that. THAT. I was quite proud of my patience as I wrote story after story, plodding along to the finish line of quantity. I’m basically there (I have another story to write, really, but I needed to start getting stories out into the submission cycle, blah blah.) But after the first draft had been written, I discovered that the delicate practice of patience had only just begun.
How many quotes out there, or answers into a microphone during Q&A at an AWP panel, are about how you just have to have patience as a writer. Just have patience. Just have patience. It’s one of the more common mantras of encouragement as writers submit and submit and submit and submit to agent, editor, journal, conference, residency, contest, pleading, Please say yes. It’s like all we do, wait and wait and wait and wait to be wanted.
Oh my god, that’s depressing. Of course, that’s not all we do. There’s the whole business of writing for the love of writing and all that beautiful jazz, but that’s not what this particular blog is examining today. So stop thinking it.
On the one hand, revision is more satisfying. You have gotten to know the characters. You have a skeleton of a plot. You can develop everything with more depth and take pleasure in unintended themes and patterns that kind of rise to the surface. But on the other hand, when submitting to journals whose wait times can be 4-6 months, it takes at least that long, thanks to a slew of rejections, to see that perhaps the story wasn’t ready. Or wasn’t strong enough. So you must revise. Wait for another reading period to open, and submit the same story to a new batch of journals and, you guessed it, wait and wait again.
So, doing the math, with an average of 5 months wait time multiplied by 2 or 3 month reading cycles to the power of inhuman amounts of patience = 86 years old (the age I can reasonably hope to publish my first book)
THIS is a true test of patience, and one where I can feel my foot tapping, my heart racing, my frustration with Past K.K. who didn’t write for the first 8 years of her marriage, and goddamn it, Past K.K., what the hell were you doing?!?! I hope all those margaritas were worth it! (Mmmmmmm, margaritas….) I get all cold-sweaty and panicky just thinking about it and wonder, maybe I AM an impatient person?!?!?!
Do not tell my mother.
But recently I have come to understand myself and my relationship with patience a little better, I think. It’s not about the ability to wait. It’s about what is at stake.
All that waiting on Carletta to straighten her hair? It’s not like we had a deadline to go have fun. Some of those hours sitting on her bed laughing and talking and eating cream cheese with pepper jelly on Wheat Thins (so much cream cheese and pepper jelly…) were some of the best of college. There was nothing at stake, nothing to lose patience over.
Driving across the country on someone else’s whim? Eh. Why not. I love tagging along. I’d rather not have the pressure or responsibility of planning the trip. Let someone else do the work and show me the world. Here’s a secret: IT WORKS EVERY TIME.
Sitting in a laundry hamper waiting on my big sister to leave me alone? That had nothing to do with patience. That was just a textbook case of Youngest Sibling Survival. It’s a thing.
But I AM deliberate. My father was right. And I suppose I may be impatient about getting something once I know I want it, but no. No. Not once I know. More like, once I realize it is going to require time. Hard work? No problem. Bring it. I am a sleeve-pusher-upper, a lets-get-started, a loads-and-loads-of-elbow-grease kind of worker, because it means I can…(wait for it)…GET WHAT I WANT. But if I have to wait on someone else to do something? Oh dear god. Chills.
And here comes the part of waiting on responses from journals. This takes weeks, months, revolutions around the sun. I get panicky about the idea of time slipping away when something is at stake.
I know I’m not alone. Thousands (millions?) of writers out there know the struggle. And they dream. And they want. And they want to be wanted. We all just want to be wanted. And we wait. And we wait. And we wait.
I get so impatient with the advice about patience. I get it! Yes, patience. Yes. God. Stop talking already. But I also know that if a younger (or newer of any age) writer were to ask me what was the most important advice I have about this road, I would look at them and, without a drop of irony, I would say, “Patience. An unending supply of patience. And margaritas. While you wait.”