To write a great book, one that leaves emotional impact, you need a great many tools, but one of the most important tools is patience. In fact, patience is as important as passion.
Why is patience so important? Well, I think this quote explains it nicely:
“A good book isn’t written, it’s rewritten.” ~Phyllis A. Whitney
Rewriting is a natural part of the process, and every book needs a different number of rewrites to be transformed from a first draft into a great novel. Even the best writers sometimes go through seven or eight rewrites. And these rewrites often take varying amounts of time. Your first rewrite might take six months and your third rewrite might only take one–it all depends on how extensive the rewrite is and how much time you devote to it.
I like to joke that I’m often impatient with people because I’ve used up all my patience writing books, and to some extent it’s true. I don’t want to publish anything less than a great novel. So the only fiction I’ve ever submitted are a couple short stories and a novella. I have three novels in different stages of editing, and I refuse to let them go until they meet my personal standards.
A great novel requires you to feel with your characters. How else are you going to make your readers feel with them? When you’re crying during a death scene, it’s probably a sign that you’re on to something. If you can’t feel the anguish or joy of your characters, you’ll have a much harder time portraying those emotions successfully in your work.
This means taking the time to learn about your characters, how they feel about themselves, each other, the world. And to do it for all your important characters, not just the main character but the antagonist and the secondary characters as well, even a few of the tertiary characters.
And that’s just the work you need to do outside the novel. You have to do self editing and at least one edit with multiple beta readers. You might even want to hire a professional editor, whether you choose to self publish or seek out a traditional publisher.
Once you’ve finished rewriting, it’s time to write a query letter and a synopsis. These pieces might only each be a page long, but they can still take you a few weeks to perfect. And if they’re your first query letter and synopsis, you might want to get feedback on these too before submission.
When you send out your submission package, you’ll find yourself playing the waiting game. This can be frustrating when your novel is with a critique writer, and it’s a lot more unpleasant when you’re waiting to hear from a publisher. Traditional publishers can take one to six months to respond, and if they want exclusive submissions–meaning you can’t submit elsewhere until they respond–this can be six months of hope crushed in a two sentence form rejection.
I’m experiencing this first hand right now: I submitted a YA fantasy novella to an ebook publisher in March and every time I think about it I start to feel restless. This is the first time I’ve waited more than two months for a response on fiction, and it’s definitely a learning experience.
So how can you cultivate patience?
Unfortunately there is no easy one-size-fits-all cure for impatience, and it’s often a struggle spanning years or even entire lifetimes. In the fast paced world we’ve built it’s easy to want everything to be efficient, to obsess over how long everything takes.
But there are strategies we can use to build patience–or at least to stop obsessing over things we can’t control:
Submit often. The thing about submitting often is that you end up waiting often. In the age of email you can get a response within as little as a few minutes, but usually you’re going to wait at least a month. If you’re submitting to a big publisher, you’ll be lucky to hear back within three months.
You’re going to spend a lot of your career waiting even after your first publication. Working on another book? That means another submission process. Even submitting short stories and poetry can involve a long wait time, depending on the publication. And once you have a contract you’ll also have to wait for edits, galleys, ARCs and finally publication.
Remember that many great novelists take years. One of my favourite writers, Hope C. Clark of FundsForWriters, took 20 years to publish her first novel. A writer I worked with at Musa took almost 40 years to find a publisher. Many authors have devoted entire lifetimes to a single series.
If you’re trying to write great books, you have to be in this for the long haul, just like these authors.
Waiting should be a passive activity. It shouldn’t take up much of your mind at any given point. You should be concentrating on moving forward. Writing the next book. Working on your next short story. Getting a few freelance clients to supplement your income and keep you writing. Taking a writing class.
If you’re always working on the next thing, it’s easy to forget about the things you’re waiting for. Stay focused on the next project, the next goal, and by the time your response comes in you’ll be a better writer and maybe even have crossed some other things off your goal list.
Are you patient enough to rewrite a novel as many times as it takes? What about waiting to hear from a publisher? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!