The Art of Patience
So much writing advice is rooted in the importance of stamina. Keep at it. Don't stop. Push through the blocks—write, Write, WRITE! It's decent counsel. Nothing wrong with it. But listen to that bullhorn for too long and you might start thinking you're defending a heavyweight title or stacking bricks, not putting words on paper. I'm all for keeping one's nose to the grindstone—I grew up on a farm and I've labored in the service industries; I know what a truly hard day's work feels like. (As much as I'm wholly dedicated to this magazine, it's not my job that's been knocking me out at night lately, but rather the energies of two young children.) Still, there's a critical piece of related wisdom that is often missing in the endurance mantra, and that's the art of patience.
I was recently afforded a short stretch of relatively uninterrupted time to begin a writing project that has had a long gestation. I eagerly planted my butt in the chair, as more than one author has advised, to take supreme advantage of the time. As I got further into the project—the scope of which became apparent only after I had spent a week drafting the first pages—I was reminded that writing anything substantive is not a sprint; it's a marathon (to take nothing away from a project like National Novel Writing Month, which serves its own purpose). And while one needs stamina to run a marathon, patience is required to run it well.
Consider our cover subject, Monique Truong (page 48). Her new novel, Bitter in the Mouth, has been eagerly anticipated since readers first delighted in her debut, The Book of Salt, seven years ago. Then there's Darin Strauss (56). His memoir, Half a Life, is a moving examination of a devastating event in the author's past. When did it occur? More than half his lifetime ago. Rather than rush to explore the subject matter in print, Strauss was patient, and readers of his new book will know it was well worth the wait. Take all the books covered in this issue, from Page One (14) to Recent Winners (137), and think about how much time was put into their writing. The authors pushed themselves, no doubt, but they were also patient—they waited, they revised, they perfected. Place that time end to end. How many lifetimes do you hold in your hands?