Patience, Grasshopper

Patience. Probably one of the most ignored and overlooked items in a writer’s toolbox. Not unrelated to the subject of stubbornness (see persistence), but a different commodity. New writers especially don’t have much use for it. On another board a new writer asked, “If I send in a story now, does it appear in the next issue? How soon do I get paid?” The sound you doubtless heard was a thousand shiny pins forming a queue to pop that lovely balloon. After the realities were explained, you could practically see the fallen crest. “Oh. I didn’t know it was so complicated.”

Wrong lesson. It’s not complicated at all. It’s not easy, but it’s not complicated. You write a story. You search for the market that might want to publish it. Chances are that the market you thought it was perfect for doesn’t agree. It happens. You shrug and keep trying until you find the right one. As I said, not complicated at all. However, it does take time. Lots and lots of time. That’s where the patience comes in. There are probably avocations that try one’s patience more than being a writer, but not many. And I do mean things that require patience, not merely dealing with aggravation or “working your last good nerve,” though there’s plenty of that to go around, too. No, I mean patience in its purest, most applicable essence. You send a novel/story off. You wait. And Wait. Maybe it sells. Then you wait for the contract. Then you wait to get paid. Then you wait for it to be published. Then you wait for reader response, if any. All the aforementioned dribbles in on its own good time. Or not. If the project doesn’t sell, out it goes again and the whole process starts over again.

There are ways to mitigate the waiting, and the smart writer adopts them early. The main one being, of course, to write something else. Lots of something elses. The trick is to never, ever, be “just” waiting. You never put all your eggs in that particular basket. You want lots and lots of baskets and lots and lots of eggs, so when one basket takes an inevitable tumble it’s annoying but no more than that. That’s your part of the process. You know the one. The part that’s under your control.

Now for one part that isn’t–Editors. Editors will also try your patience. Contrary to popular belief, editors are not callous and cruel as a rule. They aren’t trying to work your last good nerve. It’s just that their needs and your needs don’t always coincide. It’s great when they do: “I need a good story to finish my anthology and writer just sent me a good one. Yay!” That’s when things work out right. Mostly they don’t. What you often get is something more like this: “I need a good story to finish my anthology. Writer just sent me a decent one and I like it and all, but the deadline’s not here yet. I’ll hold onto it and maybe something better will come along.” Editor wants the best story they can get. Maybe that’s yours. Maybe it isn’t. You’ll be left hanging because it’s in the editor’s best interest to do so. Does it happen? Of course it happens. Annoying? Heck yes. Guaranteed to make you feel like chopped liver and second choice? You bet. Feels good, doesn’t it? Absolutely. Deal with it. How? Patience. Leavened with a good measure of stubborn persistence, but mostly patience.

And write something else.

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2 thoughts on “Patience, Grasshopper

  1. How wonderful to read this exhortation to steadfastness here today. Just what I have been telling family members. Of course, they are so grateful for the many postive changes in me since I started writing again every day; they are really complaining about all the waiting. I continue to write, which I need to do JUST BECAUSE!

  2. Exactly. It is rare to get a quick response even when an editor loves your story. And when you don’t get published it might be because the editor already accepted a story with a similar plot or characters. Some of my best stories have bounced around for years before they found a home.

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