Back when I was in high school, I took a novel-writing course at York College with Nancy Springer, who at that time was a local author. (She’s still an author, but she’s moved to warmer climes. She also had the coolest pair of boots I’d ever seen, and the writer cred to get away with wearing them.) The first night, she walked in and wrote three words on the board at the front of the room:
It was a succinct-yet-powerful reminder that just as Rome was not built in a day, novels are not written overnight. And for me, at about 15, it was just what I needed to hear, because I wanted to write it all RIGHT NOW.
Those three words popped into my head today because my patience is being tested right now. As I write this, I am sitting in the Apple Store waiting for what might be the longest iPad restore in the history of mankind. (They assure me that this is not true. I remain unconvinced.) I am not sure that it will be done before the store closes, and I don’t know what happens if it’s not, and I’m starving because I haven’t had dinner, and this was really not how I envisioned my evening. If I were a foot-tapper, I’d have tapped a hole all the way to China by now. The only sign of hope is that I have at least an illusion of progress in iTunes.
But much as I may wish it were otherwise, Nancy Springer was right. Things take time. This restore is going to take…as long as it is going to take. There’s nothing I can do to change that. And the same applies to creative work. You cannot, unfortunately, force the right piece of inspiration to strike at the right time. You can, and should, keep working in the hope of its arrival, but you can’t make it happen. It took me two years for the name of my coaching business to pop into my head, and it’s about nine months since then and I still haven’t made the switch yet, though I’m getting closer every day. Some of that’s my fault, but some isn’t. Things take time.
(Just to be clear: I’m not talking about procrastination here. That’s a totally different beast that does need to be addressed. I’m talking about the times when you work and you wonder and you put the time in, but you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, or not getting there fast enough.)
It took me two years to write my novel, as part of a great MFA program that I did while I was also teaching full time. Would I have loved to quit my job and write full time and finish sooner? Maybe. (I really loved working with my kids. And the financial security.) But I didn’t, and the book still got finished. I spent even more time on deep revision after graduation. It’s quite possible—I’d guess it’s almost certain—that spending two-plus years on it made the book far richer than it would have been if I’d had time to put it together more quickly. And I am not even sure that I could have done it faster. Creative work takes a lot of energy, and some days you’re only going to get so far no matter how many hours you spend on it.
Things take time, guys. They happen on their own schedules, and creative work takes its own weird little path into the world. It’s not a straight line from A to Z, and our final products are all the richer for the strange little detours they tend to take. So whatever you’re working on right now, whatever you desperately want to birth into the world NOW but is taking weeks or months, or even years, just remember: there’s probably a reason for this particular journey. Be patient. Give it time. Let it develop in its own cool, unique way. You’ll be happier with the results, and you’ll learn more on the journey.
Where do you need to be reminded that things take time? What’s your biggest struggle with creative patience?