Thanks for your patience: a sentence I seem to use too often these days as my reading pile grows higher and my reading time ever shorter. It isn’t fair, but the only thing most writers are given quickly is the news that success will come slowly. We agents have to practice patience too: it can take years of encouragement and work before we see a client enjoy the acclaim he or she deserves.
I learned to be patient the hard way when, about six years ago, I lost my driving licence. I have a genetically inherited eye condition that manifests as a proliferation of spots of pigment on the retina. Even though in my case I will probably be fortunate enough not to become fully blind in my lifetime, too many of these inky smears have developed in my central vision, apparently, to make me a good person to be given control of a very fast-moving heavy object. I could write for several days on the grief of losing the keys to my car; experienced by me as the loss of my hard-won adulthood. The revelation that I can’t get to any place, fast, alone; can’t get out of any place fast, alone; came like a slap in the face. Me: suddenly: stopped.
But the truth is, I am not the stopping kind – I have too much in-built momentum – so of course I started to walk, run, cycle. Under my own steam, I can get to most of the same places as those-with-cars; it just takes a lot longer. I learned to plan ahead; spontaneity is trickier when you’re slow-moving. The non-driving suburban working mother needs a strategy for each week, a plan, a plot (geddit?). I accepted that there would be many times I would have to ask for favours, take from others, not be afraid to ask for help. And I learned to be willing to wait: for the right time, the right bus, the right weather. I had to practice patience.
Most of all, as a walker, I became more interested in the journey. Forced to slow down, I have time to experience every part of my environment – to see the things the drivers miss. I allocate an hour, not ten minutes, to certain journeys. That time spent walking and watching, can also be spent listening: to music, to radio, to podcasts. Of course you can listen in a car too, but there is something about the activity of putting one foot in front of the other that somehow stirs the brain and triggers creative thinking. Those of us who walk, cogitate and learn while we move. We also talk. I have spent much time walking alongside my children, uncovering the unexpected delights in their heads. (And other sweet surprises: my son grabs my hand when he knows I need guidance from him, not for himself).
When we let time eat us and get out into the world, we might get wet in the rain, become footsore, sweaty. But all the while, we are noticing, experiencing, growing. We stop obsessing on where we’re going, because first of all there is the road.
Recently, several clients whom I have represented for a dozen years or so have experienced a kind of explosion of success: who wouldn’t wait a decade for this? But over the past long years, all of those authors have been walking, not standing still. They have plotted, sought help, waited for the right time. They’ve been out in the world, listening and watching, learning and thinking. They’ve been talking, and taking on the experiences of others. They have been writing books and learning their craft. They have discovered much about the world and themselves in that time.
It has been a long journey. But now they have arrived. They are footsore, but they’re ready.
Those writers out there who are still on their way to success: don’t just sit and wait. Move forward in every way you can, do not lose momentum. Write, talk, listen. And, while you’re moving, don’t forget to enjoy the road. The journey may yet define the destination.