Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Please Hold...Good things come (sooner or later, but mostly later) to those who wait

Folk wisdom tells us that a watched pot never boils. Meaning, if you set the pot of water on the stove and then stand and stare at it, eager for the bubbles to appear, time drags and you begin to despair of boiling ever happening. On the other hand, if you set the pot on the stove and go off and do something else, guaranteed that water will be boiling in the blink of an eye (or perhaps even boiling over . . . but distractibility is another topic for another day).

Yesterday afternoon I spent two (2) hours trying to track down one (1) historical fact that I need for my novel. The longer the fact eluded me, the more its importance seemed to grow, until at last it felt like the entire trajectory of the story hinged on getting this one little fact exactly right.

In the end, this was not a terribly productive use of time. Two hours of rooting around in the farthest, dustiest corners of the Internet still did not yield the the fact I needed, so finally I had to break down and e-mail an inquiry to someone who is in a better position than I am to find the answer. Which means even more waiting, as I obsessively watch my inbox for a reply. (And maddeningly, to paraphrase a popular coffee-mug slogan, poor planning on my part does not constitute an emergency on theirs.) Meanwhile, two hours spent hunting an obscure fact was two hours spent NOT making progress on my story.

Last night I found myself in a sort of a funk about the whole thing. After I'd thought about it, I realized that the entire problem could be distilled down to patience. As in, I need some, and I need it NOW (another bit of coffee-mug philosophy . . . when did coffee mugs become founts of all wisdom?)

Patience is a virtue. I get that. Yet how often do we as writers find our patience tested? Daily, it seems. Maybe we're waiting for a reply to an important research question, or waiting for feedback from our critique partner, or waiting for a response from an agent or editor, monitoring the inbox with half our brain while the other half silently curses the publishing industry for its notoriously glacial pace, leaving no brain left for the actual writing.

The thing is, the obsessively monitored in-box isn't so different from that watched pot. The one never boils, and the other never yields the "From" address or subject line that you're dying to see.

So today, while I wait for an answer to my question, I am closing my inbox to focus my mind on other things. I will not check e-mail again until I break for lunch at noon. Or maybe 11:45. Okay, 11:30, tops. In the meantime, I have plugged in "XXX" where the missing information needs to go in my novel, and I am pressing forward with other parts of the story.

What's testing your writerly patience these days?


Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Ah, yes ! Patience. Never easy. Thank you for putting into words exactly how I feel at this very moment about my writing, and waiting.

LL Bolme said...

I too am waiting for the little envelope to appear in the task bar. It's like riding a slug to the next flower blossom.

Patience is the original name of the game we know as Solitaire. Charles Dickens references it in Great Expectations where he writes that Magwitch played "a complicated kind of Patience with a ragged pack of cards." This according to Encyclopedia Britannica.