By C. S. Lakin (@LiveWriteThrive)
“Will you stop standing around talking? I have things to do, and I want to order my food.”
“I’m in a hurry; No, I’m not willing to wait.”
“What do you mean you’re putting me on hold?” Click!
Is it just me, or have times changed? Drivers, pumped up on “Hatorade” at five in the morning, too impatient to wait for the light to change, race into oncoming traffic to speed through a red light. People storming into Starbucks for their espresso see a line halfway to the door, throw up their hands, and storm off (no wonder Starbucks now provides a way for you to order through their app so you don’t have to wait the long four minutes for your drink).
What about you? How long—really—are you willing to wait for that page to load on your computer at the diner that has sucky Internet? Like me, you might pack it up and drive across town to find a better connection. Even if it takes you thirty minutes.
Because you don’t have time to waste. And you’re not willing to wait. For practically anything.
What about your writing career? Does this modern mind-set of impatience seep into your attitude? It can, and if it does, it could be disastrous.
Back in the Day …
Patience is a Virtue. Or so they say. Or said. Way back then. Seems that patience has gone out the window along with honor, honesty, and 8-track cassettes.
Is there no place in our fast-paced fast-food culture for a writer to adopt a patient mind-set? Today’s ease of publishing caters to this ubiquitous attitude of hurry, fast, no wait, no problem.
But it can pose a problem. We forget that sometimes good things are worth waiting for. And that is wholly true when it comes to writing, editing, polishing, and publishing a terrific book.
Gotta Put in the Hours—No Way around It
Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller, Outliers, got me thinking about the process of rough draft to book publication. Gladwell says experts agree on the amount of time needed for a person to become an expert in his field. He cites examples—such as Bill Gates, Robert Oppenheimer, The Beatles—as some who put in the requisite hours.
To become proficient in any field, these experts say, you need to put in 10,000 hours—which equates to a lot of years of diligent effort. There are no shortcuts or get-smart-quick ways about it. Unless you’re a prodigy or Mensa genius, you are going to have to become an expert the old-fashioned way—by hard work and persistence.
Ugh, you say. I want it all now—success, recognition, fulfillment.
“But Writing Is Different!”
As a copyeditor and writing coach, I see lots of mediocre manuscripts lacking in brilliance, or poorly structured and edited. While some of this may be due to lack of talent, much has to do with this impatient mind-set I’m talking about.
Often writers figure all they need do is write and—voila! a masterpiece.
Funny how writing seems to fall into its own special category. If I decided to be a brain surgeon, people would think me nuts to walk into a hospital, state I had read a few medical books and watched a YouTube video on surgery procedures, and ask for a scalpel to operate on the patient on the table.
No doubt I would quickly be carted off by force and removed as far from that hospital as possible. I might even find myself in a nifty jacket that ties in the back, where my eager hands can’t reach the knots.
Reasonable people expect aspiring surgeons to put in the requisite hours of study, residency, and supervised training to work up to being the capable doctor they hope to be. This is the same across professions—whether one hopes to practice law, build a skyscraper, or even drive a school bus full of squirrelly children. Sure, learning to drive a bus might not require ten thousand hours, but writing isn’t as easy as to master as driving.
Ten thousand hours? That’s about twenty hours a week for ten years of practicing and honing your craft. Are you willing to put in that kind of time commitment?
“What’s Taking So Long?”
Sometimes writers lament that they haven’t been able to sell their first manuscript after a year of querying agents. Maybe even after five years they ask, “Why is getting published next to impossible?”—then throw in the towel, overwhelmed with feelings of failure.
They might slave over writing their book and hurry to self-publish, only to face negative reviews and poor sales. Their excuse? “I don’t have time to edit my book or master grammar rules. I don’t have time to research book designers or learn how to successfully market and promote. I just don’t have time!”
Maybe the goal seems impossible to reach because they haven’t yet put in their ten thousand hours. They’re not patient. They’re not willing to wait.
But there’s an “upside” to waiting. Maturity that comes with age, and our writing matures as well. Aside from the refinement and tightening that comes from endless hours of actual writing, we gain a deeper insight from life experience. We can share things from a deeper place in our hearts because we have already walked a long road in life full of experiences, both joyful and tragic.
What to Do during Those 10,000 Hours
It’s easy to see how practicing a musical instrument for thousands of hours will help you become a proficient performer, but how does this equate in terms of writing? Do we just sit down and write—anything, everything—and once we get to 10,000 hours we will find we are experts in our craft?
It’s not quite that simple. Writers wield words, concepts, abstractions, metaphors. You might compare a writer studying and mastering the construct of language in the way a musician might master her scales and arpeggios. Over time, the study of grammar, spelling, and punctuation will help a writer be proficient with the English (or other) language, and that’s very important.
But 10,000 hours spent learning just those things does not a writer make. It can produce a great English comp teacher or copyeditor. But an author? That requires a little more than just learning how to put together a proper sentence and know where a comma goes.
Authors need to have an assortment of various tools to use in their craft, and a lot of things can influence and aid in gathering those tools over the years. Here’s a partial list:
- Study books on writing craft. Don’t just read them but put into practice the things read as you write.
- Attend writers’ conferences and take workshops. Take notes and practice the things you learn there.
- Focus on one or two weak areas in your writing. Athletes will spend 80 percent of their time working on the 10 percent that they’re weak in. For example, if you’re not a great plotter, spend a lot of time studying how to construct strong plots and apply what you learn. If your characters are weak, study books on how to create great characters, then put these tips into practice.
- Get a critique partner or join a critique group. Regularly have others give you constructive feedback on your writing and listen humbly and openly to their advice. You don’t have to accept everything everyone says, but pay attention to the points that make sense to you and work to improve what needs improvement.
- At some point seriously consider hiring a copyeditor/writing coach who can professionally evaluate your work, tear it apart, and help you determine your strengths and weaknesses. For more information on how to choose an editor, what to expect from a critique, and what elements are considered in a critique, take a look at Critique My Manuscript. Then research and find an editor you feel will really help you.
Think about the Journey—Not the Destination
A few—very few—writers find “success” in publication after only a year or two of starting their journey as a writer, but that’s not the norm. Sure, there are factors of timing, accessibility to conferences, personality, the genre you write in juxtaposed to the market needs. All these things can have a bearing on your “success.”
But rather than focus on the “success” part, focus on the “expert” part. Focus on the journey and enjoy the ride instead of impatiently rushing to get to your destination.
Resist the spirit of “hurry,” and adopt that old-fashioned concept of patience. It is a virtue. Still.
If you’re willing to play the waiting game and put in those hours, it will serve you well in the long run. You’ll create books you’ll be proud of and ones readers love. And isn’t that worth waiting for?
C. S. Lakin is the author of sixteen novels and six writing craft books. Her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive gives tips and writing instruction for both fiction and nonfiction writers, and her Writer’s Toolbox series gives fiction writers everything they need to know to create compelling, solid stories.
The newest release—5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing—is available here and features more than sixty detailed Before and After examples of flawed and corrected passages to help authors learn to spot flaws in their writing.
You can check out all her books on her Amazon Author Page.
Photo: bigstockphoto.com. Amazon links contain my affiliate code.