On Not Being “There” Yet

Sometimes I look at my writing journey, where I’ve been and what I’ve done so far, and I get disappointed and frustrated and irritated and want to just give up.

I thought I’d be farther along than I am now.

When I express this to my husband, he tells me I’m being too hard on myself, reminds me that I’ve published stories and I’m continually sending new material out, and tells me how he thinks I’m pretty amazing even trying to be a successful author while raising two young kids.

And, yeah, he’s right. But…

I thought I’d be farther along than I am by now.

If you read my personal blog, Amy Writes, you know I recently returned from the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference. I took pages and pages of notes while there, and came home loaded up on information and inspiration and enthusiasm for writing.

But as I flip back through my notes on revision and plotting and character, I keep stopping on two lines flanked by asterisks.

The first line I wrote down during Paul Fleischman’s keynote, “Surviving the Novel”:

Writing a novel is not for the impatient.

It’s hard to get confirmation, he said, that what you’re doing is worthwhile because people can’t read it all like they can a shorter work. The years pile up and the book hangs over your head and can be all-encompassing.

When I heard him say those words, I felt this huge wave of relief. Oh good, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Sometimes I run into friends and they ask if my book is done yet. And regardless of how confident I was feeling about my work that morning, I suddenly find myself shuffling my feet and making excuses for why I’m not “there” yet.

What I really want to tell them is this: I rushed one novel and learned my lesson. I want to do this one well. If I don’t, then I’m just wasting my time and missing out on a social life and having fun with my kids. But instead, I just say, “It’s coming along. I’m getting there. Writing every day. You know…”

A couple of hours after hearing Paul Fleischman, I attended a session on revision led by Gennifer Choldenko. During this session I wrote another line in my notebook and put a big asterisk beside it.

Do be patient with the process. Picasso was a wunderkind but Cezanne was a late bloomer.

When she said those words, you could almost hear an audible sigh of relief from the room. And I thought, Whoa. I’m really not alone, feeling this way.

Tell me. Do you feel this way, too? Do you get frustrated with yourself for not being “there” yet.

An interesting thing just happened. I’m at a coffee shop as I write this post. A friend I haven’t seen in a couple of years just came, and we spent a little time catching up. She asked about my writing and I answered her straight. I expressed my frustration with wanting to be “there” already. She said,

You’re right where you need to be for right now.

Kind of blew me away. She said the same thing as Fleischman and Choldenko.

Be patient. Be patient. Be patient.

For all the notes I took on revision and plotting and character, and for all the expense of the conference and the time spent traveling, it was worth it to learn even just this one lesson.

Be patient.