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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Patience

"(she) pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. . . .
(II.iv.
111–114, Shakespeare's Twelfth Night)

Today’s Word Count for the Novel: 121, 539. (Little movement since last post; see what else I've been doing below.)

Page Count for the novel: 443


I don't imagine anyone in my immediate circle would dare accuse me of patience, but something about turning 40 has forced me to slow things down.

Let's not get excited and call it a habit. Sometimes, just sometimes, I'm able to wait and see.

I used to hate it when my mom would say that.

"Can we go to Great America?" (The best amusement park when I was a kid.)

"Let's wait and see." (Actually, we got to go about twice a year, very generous of my folks now that I have a back and neck in chiropractic care and wouldn't dare subject myself to the havoc those rides make with your bones. My poor parents.)

Wait and see turns out to be the healthiest approach when you don't hear back from an editor, a magazine, or a contest. It's important to check in eventually to see if you're still in the running, but it's also important to let go. Publication is pretty much a "meant-to-be" scenario. Sweat makes the writing, and sweat makes the initial contacts, but sweat while harassing an editor weekly does not make for publication. In other words, we do well not to nag and stew. We do well if we go back to creating and revision.

The average waiting time for good news to arrive is anywhere between six and twelve months. A friend and fellow writer, Nancy Purcell, just shared with me that Chicken Soup for the Soul accepted one of her essays after a yearlong wait. In 2008 I wrote a short story that's been a finalist for Glimmer Train and Stanford Magazine contests and got a nod from Missouri Review, but it has yet to find a home. I'll soon submit it to the AROHO contest. This orphan passed from foster home to foster home did lead an editor to ask whether there was any nonfiction behind the fiction. I pulled the memoir threads and created something new. It's been three months since that submission and last week I heard that it would be published in January of 2010.

In the meantime, I've had two stories in the critique cooker; a novel on a low, low simmer; and a second manuscript in a series for NCTE -- Teaching Julius Caesar: A Differentiated Approach -- in heavy edits. Yesterday I submitted one of those stories to the Esquire Contest, and after this weekend, I hope to send in Caesar. If these hands go idle, the devil of impatience and fear grips them. I say to myself, "What have you done lately? You have nothing to show."

This product-driven society insists that we produce something perfect immediately, to show for all our sweat. At home I hear my husband counsel his music students who fall into a "green and yellow melancholy" when they can't sound like Guitar Hero after the first practice. One student who showed excellent aptitude in the first lesson hung his head and teared up. Greg said gently, "What's wrong?"

The boy said, "I just want so bad to be good."

Greg doesn't say this to everyone, but he could with this particular boy whom he already knew well. He said, "Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?"

The boy's eyes widened, and Greg began to explain the path ahead for someone who truly wants to be good -- a lot of hard work. If you understand that it takes a while to be good, then you will need to focus on the moment of practice rather than the pressure to be good right away.

I can see tender-hearted parents cringing at the "harsh realities" Greg shares with a 12 year-old, but here's the thing: if you share them gently and kindly as he does, and in between honest and not invented compliments, you prep the young musician or writer to succeed. The first step is understanding that talent and success are never handed to us. Well, maybe to some, but eventually a lack of sweat will catch up with you. The years it's taken for Greg Hawks to become Greg Hawks on the guitar, and mandolin, and banjo...Greg only referred to those years in a brief sentence, since a preteen can't comprehend a quarter century of practice. Greg instead gets the kids playing music they love and talks a lot about persistence.

A like melancholy does settle upon the child inside a writer who hasn't heard anything about her work. I "pine in thought" over what I haven't yet done. Writing for many venues and anticipating responses from many places soothes the itch. I write for an educational nonprofit by day. In my spare time, I write essays, fiction, and a novel.

This week I will head to the beach with a great group of women who struggle like me to find time to write.We joke about how hard we are on ourselves, expecting that we do it all -- be the perfect partner, parent, and of course, writer. All of these relationships must bear recognizable fruit, right? We need to see everyone around us beaming while simultaneously getting our names in print.

Where'd we get that idea? Haven't we just crawled out of the slime of the twentieth century, where a room of one's own was victory enough?

In the blessings of sand, surf, and sunshine, let me open my arms and embrace the stillness of the universe, there for the tasting if I would just stop once in a while.

Writing Goal: My ultimate aim: 150,000 – 170,000 words and a complete fourth draft ready for hard-copy editing by December. This August retreat will allow me to consider part of the novel in a few days, to really get a glimpse of what I've done thus far and whether it meanders too much. I am also writing a new short story for the Good Housekeeping contest.

Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.

© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.

Elementary Prompts

Persistence Makes Perfect?

Option A: When have you tried very hard -- and kept trying without giving up? This is called persistence. What did you do? How did you feel at the end? How did other people react when they saw what you did? Would you do it again? Why or why not?

Compare trying hard to a color, a shape, and then something in nature (plant, animal, or something else). Explain why you make this comparison.

Option B: Do you think you are a persistent person? How do you know?

Option C: Do you think people should try to be perfect at something? Why or why not?

Option D: Finish this sentence (write until I call time): Nothing could make me give up except...

Patience

Option A: Who do you know who is very patient? Describe this person and describe some times when you saw this person be very, very patient.

Option B: How patient are you? If "1" is very impatient and "10" is "very patient," where would you put yourself? Tell a story about being very impatient or very patient.

Option C: Finish this sentence (write until I call time): I waited and waited for...

Secondary and Adult Prompts

Persistence Makes Perfect?

Option A: When have you been very persistent? What did you do? Why did you stick with things? Were you ever discouraged or told not to continue, but did anyway? Why? How did you feel at the end? How did other people react when they saw what you did? Would you do it again? Why or why not?

Compare persistence to a person, place, or thing. Explain why you use this metaphor.

Option B: Define persistence. Think of a time when persistence has really helped you or could help someone else you know. Write an advertisement -- a public service announcement -- for persistence.

Option C: Do you think you are a persistent person? How do you know? Do you believe this about yourself because of your accomplishments or what others tell you? If you don't believe you are very persistent, who is someone you admire for their tenacity?

Option D: Do you think people should try to be perfect at something? Why or why not? Does persistence lead to perfection, or something else?

Option E: Finish this sentence (write until I call time): After hours of trying I couldn't believe I...

4 comments:

bobmust said...

40 ??!? A mere child!

If you've been a finalist at Glimmer Train, you've done far better than I.

Hang in there, Lyn, but remember - persistence is the twin to patience.

Lyn Hawks said...

Thanks, Bob -- same to you! And with all your accomplishments, I dare say you ought to show yourself more patience if not honor. As you know, there's never a clear trajectory for success...everyone's is so wildly different, and so much of it is timing. They did a study of those people whom we consider the greatest successes (business) and it turns out that a great majority had family, friends, and surroundings that nurtured it. I think the Cinderella discovery gets hyped more than it happens. I don't know about you, but I don't know any lit mag editors. My dream would be to start one.

Lyn

Anonymous said...

Lyn:

Your latest blog post is on target and should resonate with all published and non-published authors. Surviving rejections by agents and magazines becomes a "badge of experience." Hopefully this becomes a learning experience to improve the next time out.

A

Lyn Hawks said...

And a Red Badge of Courage some days, too!