Patience in Writing


Patience in Writing

Patience in Writing

Writing fiction is an activity that demands an extraordinary amount of patience.  In fact, I’m convinced that the legendary “patience of a saint” is trivial compared to the patience required to be writer. 

Patience, unfortunately, is an attribute I am not naturally blessed with.  As a consequence, my development as a fiction writer has been accompanied by a parallel development in the amount of patience I exhibit.  This patience is required in three separate, but related, areas: in designing a story, revising the story, and waiting for a reply from a market.

Designing a story

This first area was the toughest to acquire patience in.  When I first started writing, I worked the way many, if not most, inexperienced writers work; as soon as a story idea popped into my head, I started writing the first scene in the new story.  Inevitably, the story thudded to a stop after two or three scenes.  While I grappled to try to continue the story, I’d get another idea and go off on a different, but no less futile, attempt to write a story.  This process led to an alarming inventory of half-written, underdeveloped stories.  Over time, I realized that my process needed changing.

In developing a new process, I came to the shocking realization that writing the first draft of a story is the last thing a writer does on the project and that this writing constitutes only a small part of the work involved, on the order of ten to fifteen percent.  My new process involves a great deal of patience since it requires that I now first develop the characters, a story ending, and a believable path from the story beginning to the end.

Only then can I start the fun stuff: writing the first draft.  In short, the new process requires that I have the patience to completely design a story prior to writing the first draft.  By actual observation, this sometimes can take three years to go from the first idea (always about a character) until I get a satisfactory story design for that character to romp around in.  During this time, I usually have a number of variations that are found wanting and end up discarded

Story revisions

My lack of patience in revising stories made me waste a lot of time and, I’m sure, annoyed a multitude of editors.  Whenever I finished a revision, I always enthusiastically thought it was perfect and I sent it off to the market.  The only advantage, a dubious one, of this process is that it led to rapid replies, always rejection, and always a pre-printed form or email

Gradually, an alternative method took shape.  I noticed the rejected stories always had many problems: in the writing style, in the continuity of plot logic, and in the characterization and typos to mention a few.  Now, I put the just-finished draft away for a time and then read it again.

Once the revision is completed, I put it away again.  After an interval, I repeat the process.  I continue this process until one of two situations occur.  The first is that I don’t make any additional corrections.  The second is a feeling that if I read the story one more time, I’ll throw up.  When either of these occur, the story is ready to get subbed.

Editorial replies

When I first started writing, replies came back almost instantaneously.  At the time, I didn’t realize that the rapidity of the response — always a rejection — indicated a lousy manuscript.  As my skills improved and my experience grew, the response times increased, and began to draw comments from the editors.  These increases tested my patience and I groused to myself about the inefficiency of the editors.  Eventually, I intuited that lengthy intervals meant my story was a contender for a slot in a future edition of the magazine.  Alas, from experience, I learned that a lengthy interval could also mean a sick editor, a bankrupt publisher, or a lost submission.  All of these things happened to me more than once.

Now that I’ve developed patience, my writing processes are much more stable and efficient.  Frankly, I miss the antsy feelings I used to get while waiting for an editor’s reply.  I also miss the enthusiasm that filled me as I threw myself into a new, and totally incomplete, story idea.  As for revising stories over and over, I can’t think of anything else that is quite so dull.

All in all, I find patience isn’t as great as it’s cracked up to be.  While it may indeed be a virtue, it’s still pretty boring and a lack of it can make life more interesting.

  1. Jack Eason says

    Like you Hank, in the beginning I had little patience when it comes to writing any form of fiction. I just poured it all out onto my laptop’s screen. But with each novel, short story, blog post, or article here on Angie’s excellent DIARY, you soon learn.

    Great article. 😉

  2. Hank Quense says

    Thanks, Jack.
    Over time I learned that a rejection was an opportunity to bother someone else. That helped a lot.

  3. Andrew J. Sacks says

    All good advice, Hank. Thank you.

  4. Hank Quense says


    You’re welcome. I’m glad you like the article. I had fun writing this one.

  5. Craig Murray says

    Well said, it is a skill as necessary to learn as grammar is.

  6. Hank Quense says

    Thanks you, Craig.
    It is difficult (and painful) to learn

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