Patience Is A Writing Virtue

After reading my Facebook post on completing my 2nd round of developmental edits and beginning my polish edits, my best friend (not a writer) commented, “Geez, aren’t you ever allowed to FINISH a book?” I laughed and replied “After agent edits and publisher edits, yes!”

Still, her comment got me thinking. Of course I can finish a book—I have completed drafts of more than 16 novels. So getting from beginning to end of a book is not an issue for me. But finishing a book and completing a book are two different things.

Most of those 16+ novels will never see the light of day. And while I may poach themes and characters from them, even plot points, they will never be completed in their present form. Completing a book—making it shine in all facets—takes a whole slew of skills I didn’t have back then. Some are life experience skills and some are craft skills, including both techniques on the page and story theory, learned from thousands of hours of writing and reading.

But the most important skill I learned is patience.

It takes patience to complete a book. As a new writer, I’d finish a manuscript, give it a couple of proofreads, and it would be “done.” Of course, I was mostly writing for my own amusement back then, so the bar was set much lower. Now, with my sights set higher, that level of “done” would never cut it.

Now, instead of saying, “It’s good enough!” I ask myself, “Why isn’t this good enough?” In other words, I look for ways the novel can be stronger. Yes, I actively seek out ways to make more work for myself! I ask critique partners and beta readers and professional editors to poke all the holes in it they can so that I can fill them, learn from them, and raise my writing to the next level.

And that takes a lot of work. A lot of time. A lot of patience. To go back into your manuscript for 7+ revisions can make your head spin. You can get sick of your own novel. You can lose perspective and wonder if it’s any good at all. You can want to throw it in a drawer and move on to something else.

When I was a new (and young) writer, I never could have done what I am doing with my current WIPs. I never could have approached yet ANOTHER revision with eagerness and excitement. I never could have made myself stay up late, eyes like sandpaper, to edit this for the billionth time.

It takes patience to do that. Patience with my work (understanding that this process is not infinite, it will end), and patience with myself—allowing myself the mistakes I make, and learning from them.

The result? I am more excited about my current WIP (now in revision 7 and headed for query land next week) than I have ever been about any other work. Or rather, I am more realistically excited about it, since I now have also learned what goes into making a marketable book.

I said to my writing buddy Nancy Keim Comley the other day that this is the first manuscript I really feel has reached that professional bar. And it only took 16+ novels and 28 years to get here.

Patience. It’s a writing virtue.


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