Like the March Hare in Alice in Wonderland, I’m always in a hurry — which is peculiar because I’m retired. Tell that to my circadian clock, whichever one it is that keeps me impatient and eager to get on with my invented projects. When I was a child, my teachers warned me to slow down, but I never listened because I found it hard to keep up with my brain. I have made my peace with impatience though tolerating the feeling is unpleasant — like pushing my way through a wall of Jell-O while I hurry to the terminal as my plane approaches the runway.
As a writer, my condition has gotten worse. First, I’m starting my artistic career late in life. Second, I’m pressed by all I long to say. But writing, like any discipline requires patience. There’s patience to work on a piece until it’s perfect. There’s the patience of submitting the work and waiting for a publisher’s reply. If accepted, there’s the patience required to see the material in print. And finally, there’s the waiting for reviews, the waiting for readers to discover you, the waiting for sales, and the waiting for the publisher’s check.
Of all these “waitings,” the patience required to demand the best of yourself is the hardest to confront. Writing means protected time with no distractions, a determination to make the language work at its highest efficiency, and an unwillingness to give up until a piece represents your best. Attaining that goal also means being ready to shred your work into bits and start over again, if necessary. Always a scary proposition. Finally, there’s the willingness to take criticism once you’ve done your best and someone deems it wanting. Writer Maile Meloy hits the nail on the head in her comments about taking constructive criticism: “When you hear it, it’s the dumbest thing anyone has ever said, and you just nod and say thank you. Then, by the next day, you realize it’s just what you need.” (“Speed Trap,” by Maile Meloy, Town&Country, November 2015 pg. 170.)
What Meloy doesn’t admit is why, when you’re impatient to have your work done, a serious writer faced with serious criticism will start again. The reason is pride. Pride distinguishes the writer from the hack.
What I’ve confessed, I suppose, is a seduction. To entice a reader, the writer’s passion hurries with slow deliberation. That, I think, is why, Meloy, in describing the art, quotes Napoleon as he prepares for battle: “Dress me slowly, for I am in a hurry.”