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. Avatar of Jack Eason
    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. Avatar of Hank Quense
    Hank Quense says

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

  3. Avatar of Andrew J. Sacks
    Andrew J. Sacks says

    All good advice, Hank. Thank you.

  4. Avatar of Hank Quense
    Hank Quense says


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

  5. Avatar of Craig Murray
    Craig Murray says

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

  6. Avatar of Hank Quense
    Hank Quense says

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

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