| Don’t Write Alone
Toolkit Using Impatience to Help Your Writing
In this exercise, classes instructor Chaya Bhuvaneswar asks you to consider your impatience with not yet being where you want to be in your writing career and helps you use that as momentum.
You know the feeling. You’ve scrolled on Twitter, or, even worse, done searches on Publishers Marketplace, looking at everyone (absolutely everyone! It seems like . . . ) getting a book deal just like that. You read Poets & Writers, go to various conferences, pitch agents and editors, get somewhere—but not quite to that boxed announcement you can tweet out, or not quite yet to a magazine acceptance in what you consider a dream journal.
You know inspiring publishing stories, like how Deesha Philyaw’s story collection took time before being published by an indie press as an instantly classic work. You’ve learned from their memoir how Akwaeke Emezi got a small advance for their beautiful debut novel when they finally got an offer for it. You know how even well-established writers like Barbara Pym —after decades of success—had four novels rejected by her publisher in a row (along with an article she wrote for a magazine, The Author, on dealing with rejection—also rejected!) before having her career rejuvenated by Philip Larkin’s devotion. While these stories of “waiting that paid off” or “sticking it out to get published” are encouraging (and how generous that these and other writers shared them publicly), they don’t necessarily lessen your own impatience—eagerness, need, hope—to get in print!
However, you are in luck. Because that impatience can be disengaged from the publishing industry (a corporate and collective entity, after all, though containing amazingly talented and personally-invested editors, publishers, marketers, and others). Instead of equating “impatience” with “the downside of waiting,” you can reclaim it to power your writing and productivity. You can use your impatience to power yourself to victory.
Here are five ways you can use impatience to help your writing:
1. “Impatience.” Spend a few moments concentrating on the emotion; meditating on it, if you will. When I’ve done this, before publishing White Dancing Elephants: Stories (a PEN/ America literary award finalist), and since then as well, what I come up with is neutrality. Yes, I would like to finish and publish more books! Sign me up, please. But underneath that vague desire is an impatience for life more generally to move forward (family, littles, work, personal growth), and when I evaluate that trajectory I find myself so grateful and fulfilled that the impatience to “get that boxed announcement” seriously recedes. Ask yourself: What is your life? If it’s bound up with family or a “day job” you find interesting and compelling, isn’t that your actual life, moving forward as it will, with writing part of—but not defining—the entire journey?
If you’ve dedicated yourself to writing for years, without (yet!) a major result, for encouragement read about Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, who spent eight years—his entire twenties—living with his mother and writing full-time, unable to get published at first. Or read this lovely narrative by award-winning, bestselling author Min Jin Lee, about how long it took her to get published when she devoted herself to writing full-time—hint, it took long! But in any case, suppose you have done your research and considered how long a game the craft of writing can be and still a slightly mean voice whispers nothing. But that can’t literally be true. By now you must have accumulated pages, but maybe told yourself they’re not worthwhile. Table that thought for now. Only concentrate on impatience, your rocket fuel.
2. Do impatient free writes (at least 500 words at a time, but more is better) where you deliberately write a story, flash piece, essay, or chapter from a perspective you had (consciously or subconsciously) held yourself back from writing because you were convinced you wouldn’t get it right. Maybe! But your impatience simply doesn’t leave room for any doubts. Think of it as mortality-related impatience. We are mortal! So write it now . Write it! Like Elizabeth Bishop—before you return to the ether. Use any means you can—pen, paper, laptop, dictation.
3. Feeling that impatience now, after the free write(s), and barely able to sit with it? Pick one project, any project, and set yourself an arbitrary, ridiculous deadline (“three weeks!”) and see if you hit it (meaning: “finish enough of the project so it starts to feel real and worth continuing.”) This may mean jumping ship impatiently, which possibly might sound unwise. But doesn’t it reflect the deep wisdom of finitude? Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon has written about how he felt years slip away as he became embroiled in his famously unfinishable second novel, a door-stopper about baseball, America, and he knew not what else. It was only by giving himself a kind of ridiculous deadline – “six weeks to write a new novel draft that he could work on instead” that he found his way out of this labyrinth, produced the first draft of Wonder Boys , and knew he was finally back on the right track.
4. Command yourself to use an exercise of writing scene cards to flesh out a story idea without sitting and writing it from beginning to end right away (and risking getting bogged down and/or distracted from your initial, compelling, fantastic idea that you were so impatient to write). In his useful and interesting book From Where You Dream , Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler spells out a method that links the “unconscious” (thereby mysterious) origin of stories to their expository presence in the world. The cards are unpredictable and not (yet) even connected. But each card can be a scene, a beat, a happening—a key emotional component of your story. Then whenever you do one of your impatient free writes, you can pull out a card (or two) and write what the card instructs you to.
5. And finally, cherish the alone time rather than being so impatient for it to end; countless writers have talked about how they yearn to return to a time where they wrote without anyone watching. Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri, for example, has talked about how she deliberately gets herself back in that crucial, unobserved, mentally unpublished state of mind—which is a state of freedom. For Lahiri, reading and writing in only Italian gave her that sense of a fresh new beginning, without any burden from expectations by others. Yes, the impatience can be a kind of rocket fuel for your writing, but the best part about it is that you get to set the pace and the entire direction.
If you enjoyed this exercise, Chaya is teaching a 12-week story collection draft generator with us this fall. Check it out here. Class begins August 4th!