I don’t think I’m an authority on writing by any means, but I feel like after a few degrees, a publication or two, god knows how many articles, and at least one career defined by words… well, I’ve at least got a little bit of advice.
So here’s a bit I’ve been mulling over in my head recently: don’t be patient.
I think patience has its place across many artistic mediums and genres — the thing is, it tends to belong within the creation itself, not in the act of creation. Music, for example, can benefit from a little patience. Film, too. And yes, even literature. An author willing to drag you along, page by page, until the very end — holding out that big reveal, that magical line they thought of ages ago — that’s nothing but patience. But, like I said, that’s all part of the work itself — it’s baked in during its creation.
But when it comes to the creation of art — at least writing, which is the only medium I can really say I have any experience in — I think impatience is a much better virtue.
Now, I’m aware that part of this is down to my writing style. They say that writers generally fall into two categories: those that meticulously choose every word, and those that slash and burn and rip there way through whatever it is they’re doing. Thing is, I lean so heavily to the reckless abandon side of things that I can’t even relate (not even a little!) to someone that treats every sentence like some precious life-long project.
And really, when it comes down to it, I think part of being impatient is developing a cockiness — an arrogance, even. When you’re an impatient writer, you’re trusting your instincts. You’ll think of a verb, and then go with it. Could you have paused for a second and thought of a better one? Sure, you could’ve — but impatience dictates that you trust your gut.
If you’re describing someone trying to get away from something and your brain spits out “running” instead of “sprinting,” what does that tell you? You could take it to mean that your verb choice wasn’t specific enough, and that you need to try harder — or maybe you could see the simple beauty in the world “run.” Sprinting implies a specific variety of an action. Is that really what you are trying to convey? Do you really want to emphasize a sense of speed?
Impatience also dictates that you stand by your words.
Writing is all about vulnerability — and by being impatient, you are simultaneously being more and less vulnerable.
You’re being more vulnerable because you’re letting your true self be seen a bit more. Often, I feel that writers will edit themselves out of their own writing — I used to see this with my students, and now I see it professionally way too often. When someone knows eyes are on them, they’ll cut out the parts that make their writing something identifiable and replace all of those good bits with generic, AP-approved fluff.
That doesn’t mean that everything you pop out will be good. Fuck no. Most of it will be total shit. But here’s the thing: if you never let the “you” be seen in your writing, then you’re going to end up polishing the generic bits into something that’s technically perfect but utterly devoid of, well, you.
When, eventually, you have to be you in your writing — whatever that happens to mean in the moment — you’re going to collapse into existential mush. What do you even sound like? How do you even know what your writing — what you on the page — looks like?
I cannot explain how many times I see this professionally: otherwise exceptionally competent writers falling apart when I need to see their voice in a piece. And really, there’s no other explanation. How does an otherwise fantastic writer just completely forget how words work when you ask them to put more of themselves in an article?
But then there’s that bit about less vulnerability.
Here’s the thing: if you spend hours crafting your sentences and making them perfect, then when you’re inevitably told they’re shit, you’re going to crumble. And why wouldn’t you? You crafted something — and it wasn’t good enough. Your heart and soul and blood and tears and emotions and lived experienced — it all was put in there, and you relived all of it as you tried to pick the absolute perfect syntax to convey whatever it was you desperately wanted to say.
On the other hand, if you are impatient — if you trust your gut — not only are you going to not form a parental attachment to your work (which will let you treat it objectively later), you’re also not going to give a shit when it gets ripped apart.
That doesn’t mean being immune to criticism — far from it. Confidence in writing means knowing that most sentences you write won’t be great — but that’s okay. There are very few writers that pump out novels filled with line after line of beautiful prose. Even the best writers — even the best literature we’ve got — it might be filled with beauty, but there’s also a lot of stuff in the middle that’s just okay. And that’s… fine. Trust me. No one will remember your weak sentences as a writer.
Unless, of course, you have no voice, or no personality. And… well, see above for how that often happens (at least in my experience).
And yes — I know that this nugget of advice can quickly start to sound like “just don’t care.”
So let me make this clear: impatience does not mean a lack of care. It’s precisely the opposite. Impatience is writing what you want to write — what you really want to write. It’s caring less about the critic between you and the page and more about the person putting the words on it. It’s knowing that not everything you put to paper will be good, but that after doing it enough, you’ll learn what good actually is — and what good sounds like when you’re doing it.
So yeah, don’t wait. Don’t stare at the page trying to pick the perfect verb. Don’t agonize over dialog tags.
Just write something and get the fucking idea out of your head.