Patience: Tips for Writing While You Wait
I haven’t been able to run in over a month due to sciatica nerve pain down my right leg. It’s a familiar discomfort, one that put me in physical therapy for seven weeks in 2014. I’ve been doing all the stretching exercises and applying heat. I just finished my third round of prednisone. Things get better but never enough so that I can run except in my dreams. I’ve had more than one dream in which I’m running, and it’s always glorious. Of course, my limitations are leading me to an appreciation of patience, a quality that’s important to any writer.
It takes time for a piece of writing to take shape. We often begin with something that intrigues us without thought of where it might lead. Sometimes we creep along, a sentence at a time as if we’re feeling our way out of a dark room. Other times, we sit and stare out windows for hours and hours, hoping to get a glimpse of our next move on the page. Days, months, and sometimes years go by and we feel we’re nowhere closer to knowing what the heck we’re doing. We have to be patient. The piece we’re working on doesn’t care that it’s being slow in revealing itself to us. It will do so in its own time.
A writing career is like that, too. We can go a long time wondering when things might finally take off. We may wonder if indeed they ever will. What can we do but keep writing? We love moving words about on the page. Nothing should be able to stop us from doing that. Our desire for external validation is natural, but what’s even more innate is the inclination toward expression. We write to give a shape to all that mystifies us. Our satisfaction comes from within, and we should always remember that.
All of this said, there are some things we can do to hasten our own writing process.
- We can daydream a piece. We can close our eyes and imagine our characters in motion. If we don’t try to force them, we can slip into a state where they start to speak and act independently of our intentions for them, and in the process they can reveal where the piece wants to go.
- We can read in another genre. As a prose writer, reading poems often causes me to want to respond to the music I’m hearing. A close attention to language and tone can sometimes open up a piece of my prose. I can only imagine that poets might get a similar benefit by reading prose narratives that illuminate the mysteries and complexities of the heart.
- We can think smaller. Instead of trying to grasp the entire, story, novel, or piece of creative nonfiction, we can tell ourselves our only objective is to render a particular scene or a piece of description, or a character. We can grab onto a detail and take a look at how it may be imagistic or even expand into a metaphor. Metaphor is a way of thinking and can often show us things about our piece we didn’t previously know. We might even challenge ourselves to reduce the piece we’re working on to 750 words or fewer. A miniature version might show us the entire scope of the project.
- We can leave breadcrumbs. We can sketch out a plot by concentrating on what our main characters might do. Try repeating this sentence, filling in the blank in different ways, all with an eye toward creating a narrative made up of cause and effect. The sentence is, “So one day she decided to. . . .” Of course, in the final version, these sentences will end up being revised, but for the time being their only purpose is to put a series of actions on the page and to invite us to think about where the sequence is heading.
- We can write in another genre. We can take our prose project and make it a poem. We can take an image from a poem and use it to tell a story. We can invent narratives to help us think about a piece of creative nonfiction, and we can write a piece of memoir that somehow informs our fiction. Crossing over into another genre can return us to our piece with more clarity.
In my dreams of running, I always run faster than I’ve been able to in some time. My stride is easy. I have no pain. Such is what I hope for all of us when it comes to our writing, knowing, of course, that there will be days when our efforts are labored. While I wait for the day I can run again, I take satisfaction from walking. I’m still in motion. Even though we may have to practice patience when it comes to our writing, there’s no rule that says we can’t also take action. I hope the tips I’ve offered above will invite you to do just that, to keep you writing without resistance.
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