And meditating on impatience
Last Monday morning, my wife was doing what most people around the world do: lament the week of work waiting for her.
I felt similarly, so in an impulsive gust of hype to remedy our mood, I declared that the week was going to be “Kick-ass Week,” full of all kinds of energizing and unexpected breakthroughs.
The pronouncement was meant to be comedic, over-the-top, akin to vacuous institutional branding like “The place to be” or “Tomorrow starts here.”
But I also like using hype as a motivator, so, strangely enough, the decidedly unlyrical “Kick-ass Week” planted itself into my week and reared up every time something not kick-ass occurred.
Which was too often. By the end of the week, my operating metaphor was that I was trying to move several glacier-sized projects in my life by swimming up to them and trying to push them forward. Sisyphean, yet worse, because at least Sisyphus gets the brief satisfaction of reaching the top of the hill with the boulder.
So my impatience, and its ensuing toxicity, mounted as the week went along, and I started to think about my relation to impatience. Impatience is a natural part of any creative project, and I think it can be both bad and good.
The Impatiens flower got its name because if you put the slightest pressure on its seed pod when ripe, it bursts open and its seeds scatter. Impatience is a result of our passions at their best, prompting us into action, seeking soil to grow in.
But impatience can also be a saboteur. It can grow out of greed, an impulsive rapaciousness. It wants what it wants—and it wants it now—resisting the gentle lope of the present, fighting, forcing, squirming, yearning, reaching, clawing.
Impatience can demand the impossible, like when you’re stuck in a traffic jam. There’s a discord: your urge to move at a normal pace collides with the cars hemming you in. You’re like a dog straining against a leash. Each tiny start and stop frustrates more than it relieves tension.
But what if you decided to view the passage of time in a traffic jam as you would time spent in a flower garden?
The irony of impatience: it makes time move more slowly. It narrows our vision. We move frantically, tangling the flow of our imagination, unable to notice, unable to care.
Writing has a way of slowly unfolding, though. It has a gentle lope. It resists being unnecessarily rushed or too willfully steered. To be impatient with a story is like being impatient with a child: you risk a tantrum.
Afterward, there’s always the question, why all the hurry?
No matter what setbacks we receive, the answer is always the same: To keep going. To trust in the increments of progress.
So sit with your words. Sit with your aspirations. Let them deepen. Trust that they’ll grow as they grow, and they’ll only bloom when they’re ready.
What do other writers say about impatience?
“The computer, the noise of the computer feels like impatience. It's sort of the sound of impatience to me.”
― Tony Kushner
“I would be pleased if someone would invent a pill to remove my impatience, moodiness, and occasional bursts of anger. But if they did, I wouldn't be able to write my novels or paint.”
― Orhan Pamuk
“Old age is not meant to be survived alone," Man Rapadou said, her voice trailing with her own hidden thoughts. "Death should come gently, slowly, like a man's hand approaching your body. There can be joy in impatience if there is time to find the joy.”
― Edwidge Danticat, The Farming of Bones
The impatience to publish
Carmen Maria Machado wrote a really interesting piece on artistic impatience, the rush the publishing world often exerts on a writer, and the roles that MFA programs often play in the process.
The piece was sparked by the Jumi Bello plagiarism scandal, which was reported in AirMail. Bello was a debut author who had her book canceled by the publisher because it contained a significant amount of plagiarism.
Machado takes the story far beyond the act of plagiarism or a messy creative process and explores how a writer can easily be seduced by the impatience to publish before a work has truly marinated or been developed to its potential.
I’ll say no more, but I think both pieces are must-reads for all writers.
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Because more about me
I am the executive director of National Novel Writing Month, the co-founder of 100 Word Story, and an Executive Producer of the upcoming TV show “America’s Next Great Author.” I am the author of a bunch of books and the co-host of the podcast Write-minded.
My essays on creative writing have appeared in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Lit Hub, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer.