As a writing teacher and coach, I often focus on ways to write faster and more efficiently. I teach techniques for generating ideas, writing when we only have five minutes, getting a fast start on our daily writing practice, and quickly identifying and correcting problems in our work. But lately I’ve begun to think that I don’t talk often enough about the simple practice of quiet waiting.
I am an impatient person in an impatient world. Like most Westerners, I don’t like waiting for things. Think about how we live our lives:
- We microwave our lunches because the forty minutes for something to cook in the oven seems too long.
- We expect responses to our texts and emails immediately after we send them.
- Rather than waiting to buy something when we have the money, we use credit cards so we can get it right away.
- We chafe when lines get too long, traffic is crawling, or someone puts us on hold.
I could, I suppose, intone about how much slower life was when I was a kid, back when the digital age was still science fiction and a letter took days to get across country, but my parents could have said the same thing to me, and their parents to them. The truth is, our culture has been on hell-bent on speed and efficiency for centuries.
Perhaps that’s the reason patience isn’t a virtue we hear much about. No one says, “One of the nicest things about Nicole is she’s just so patient.” Or, “Isn’t Sam’s patience attractive?” Still, patience—the simple skill of waiting without feeling uncomfortable about it—is invaluable.
Patience is a key to living the writing life happily and well. As a writer, you have to wait not only for editors to respond to your work, agents to get back to you, and that twice-yearly royalty check, but for your writing to create itself on the page. You wait for good ideas. You wait for the right words. You wait for your characters to take shape and your plots to emerge. The writing process often requires monumental steadfastness and endurance.
That is where quiet waiting can help. The next time you feel stuck, rather than struggling urgently to get unstuck, give this a try:
- Just wait.
- Don’t do exercises or techniques designed to generate ideas or break through blocks. You can do those some other time. This time, just wait.
- Don’t get up and go do something else, even if that sometimes clears your mind. Instead, wait.
- Don’t get swept up in frustration. Allow it to come, acknowledge it, then dismiss it.
- Remind yourself that your task at the moment isn’t to write: It is to wait.
- Sit with the waiting. Be there with it. Allow it to be an empty space into which something will eventually flow.
- Observe your thoughts and feelings.
- Pay no attention to how much time is passing.
- Be quiet. Not just externally, but internally as well.
- Don’t try to fill your time, your thoughts, or the page just now. Allow it to fill itself.
- Do not think that just because nothing is appearing on the page at the moment that nothing is being accomplished. Your words may be coming from a long way away. Give them time.
- Give yourself permission to just wait. A lot of impatience comes from our own brains telling us we have to be working all the time.
- Enjoy the waiting. Why not? We’ve learned in the West that waiting is a bad thing. But what is wrong with sitting calmly, allowing things to happen in their own sweet time?
This practice of quiet waiting can be a challenge at first, but once you allow yourself the space to do it, it is amazingly fruitful—and it can switch your writing practice from one in which you feel like you have to continually churn stuff out to one in which ideas flow naturally and easily.
Give it a try. Then post here and let me know how it worked for you.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...