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Practicing Patience in the Writing Life

I'm thinking about patience this morning because I'm being called on in my writing life to be very patient. Last summer, I finished my novel. In the past six months, I've:

  • Waited to learn whether my agent wanted to read it
  • Waited while she read it to learn whether she wanted to represent it (fortunately, she did)
  • Waited for her to pitch it to publishers during a time when she was especially busy
  • Waited to hear whether any of the publishers she pitched it to wanted to read it. (Again, fortunately, a bunch of them did).

Now I'm waiting to hear from the publishers who are, presumably, reading my book. Weeks pass. More weeks pass, and still more. My agent has sent a reminder email to various editors. And yet . . . nothing.

"I'm pretty sure I'm going to hear this week," I told my husband last Monday. With the holidays over, everyone would be getting into the swing of things again. My agent’s gentle nudging would get thing goings . . . so I thought. But nope, not a word.

And so, like it or not, I’m learning a lesson in patience.

In one form or another, patience is encouraged by most spiritual traditions. In Mahayana Buddhism, it is called Ksanti, which literally means "the ability to withstand." Christians are exhorted to be patient by St. Paul in Galatians, who says it is among the fruit of the spirit.The renowned 14th-century Islamic scholar Ibnul Qayyim said that both our happiness in this world and our salvation depend on patience. 

It’s little wonder that patience is so valued among the great spiritual traditions. It is one of the most important qualities we can develop if we want to get through life happily and well. It enables us to react to the annoyances of traffic jams, the equanimity to attend to small children who may need our attention when we’re already exhausted or stressed, the ability to respond with composure and level-headedness when others are being unreasonable or unkind. It improves our relationships with others and empowers us to deal with hardship.

For writers, patience is indispensable.The writing process can be agonizingly arduous. Getting a work into publication is often a slow procedure over which we have little control. I once heard the late great writer and monologist Spaulding Gray say what he hated about professional acting was that it was mostly waiting—waiting to for the call back, waiting to learn whether you got the part, waiting for shooting to begin. Writing is a lot of waiting, too. And if you can wait with patience, rather than simmering and stewing, your life is going to be a whole lot happier, calmer, and more satisfying.

So, I’m seeing my long wait as an opportunity to practice patience.To accept my experience as it is, rather than how I want it to be, as Buddhist writer Michele McDonald puts it. Or, as James S. Spiegel writes, "to endure discomfort without complaint."

2 Comment count
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Absolutely brilliant.

You have the most wonderful way with words and your posts are always relevant and inspiring. Writing is pure patience and while I am struggling with that, your post offers consolation, inspiration, and a moment to laugh out loud. Thank you so much! You are amazing!

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I'm so pleased this post

I'm so pleased this post inspired you, A. J.! I agree: Patience is everything for writers. And I'm struggling, too. I think most of us writers struggle with  tience.