Number One is Patience

Master Jeong taught: “Number one is patience, number two is patience, number three is patience.”

Deadlines help some of us. They make us get up and work. They offer us the vision of some respite from the pressure once we meet the deadline. They teach us discipline, something we can’t be writers without.

But when deadlines rule us, we can lose our way. What should rule our writing lives is a pursuit of quality that persuades us to relegate deadlines to their proper place, as tools.

Unless we’re salaried journalists, as writers we will either be the imposers of our deadlines or else we’ll agree to them. Friends of mine who have become commercial successes with popular fiction are urged by their publishers to bring out a new book every year. The implied threat is that if they fail to do so, their bank accounts will suffer.

And many writers complete and publish a dozen books a year. These folks might tell you that they need to produce like that to make a living.

A writer who chooses to make a living by working on such deadlines is making product, not art. Maybe the spirit will in some instances inspire commercial products. But as a rule, art requires patience, not deadlines.

Andre Dubus, author of some inspired short stories, tells of a method he calls writing vertically: “One day or night I decided to try a different approach. I told myself that I would not leave a sentence until I knew precisely what Anna (the story’s main character) was feeling. For years, I had been writing horizontally, trying to move forward; now I would try to move down, as deeply as I could.”

We can’t expect a spirit to reveal much in an instant. To hear God, we usually need to quiet our rampaging minds and senses and listen.

If it takes an hour of sitting and waiting to find the right words, to make a scene come alive or to deepen the truths it reveals, any artist will agree that was an hour valuably spent.

Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Repeat after me: “Number one is patience, number two is patience, number three is patience.”

For plenty more wise guidance, read the whole Writing and the Spirit book.